Gavin Newsom

Should Pot Be Legal?
Barrons, June 1 2013

Legalizing marijuana will hurt drug lords, help cash-strapped states, and ease burdens on police and prisons. Yet D.C. dithers.
America’s 40-year crawl toward legalization of marijuana is picking up speed. Twenty-six states have taken steps toward legalization, some quite bold. Just last week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper made one of the biggest moves yet, signing a package of bills addressing how marijuana will be grown, sold, taxed, and used. The measures, which follow Colorado voters’ approval of legalization last fall, form the cornerstone of the nation’s first fully legal market for pot. Come Jan. 1, Colorado residents over 21 will be allowed to buy marijuana at retail stores and smoke it for their pleasure. The state of Washington, where voters also passed a referendum to legalize marijuana, will be next. If all goes well with those pioneering efforts, it may be only a matter of time before more states follow.

Proponents say Americans should be allowed to smoke cannabis as a matter of basic personal freedom, adding that a society that enjoys legal whiskey, beer, wine, and tobacco has no business outlawing a recreational drug like pot that has fewer unhealthy side effects. After all, tens of millions of Americans enjoy smoking marijuana, if illegally.

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Eric Risberg/Corbis
Jim Hill looks over the marijuana he grows for medical purposes at his farm in Potter Valley, Calif.
It’s Prohibition all over again. That Gatsby-era law gave rise to the Mafia, rampant crime, and in the end, increased drinking. As Rep. Steve Cohen (D., Tenn.) put it recently, “This is the time to remedy this prohibition.”

Plenty of people agree. The Pew Research Center recently found that 52% of Americans support legalized possession of small quantities of marijuana. It was the first time a national poll produced a majority against pot prohibition, although the Gallup Poll and other national polls are coming close. The Pew survey found that nearly every group in the country is part of the gradual change in public attitudes — men, women, whites, blacks, rich, and poor.

It’s not just about the right to light up. With the nation’s retail marijuana market estimated at about $30 billion, legalization also would bring some important economic benefits. It could lead to sharply lower prices, striking a blow to the Mexican drug cartels and American street gangs. Pot could be produced in the U.S. for much less than Mexican pot produced illegally. By some estimates, illegality adds 50% to marijuana’s prices. If both countries legalized the drug, Mexicans might grow a lot of it and sell it to American consumers, but the inexpensive legal product would not draw the attention of the ultraviolent Mexican drug traffickers any more than Mexican tomatoes do.

Legalization also could bring some relief to cash-strapped states. Marijuana taxes would join levies on liquor, tobacco, gambling, and other pursuits that once were banned. A report prepared for the libertarian Cato Institute suggests states could raise a total of about $3 billion from marijuana taxes, and other estimates are even higher. California alone could pull in $1.4 billion a year, a state tax authority has projected. That may seem minor compared with a state budget approaching $100 billion, but it would top the $1.3 billion that California now gets from alcohol and tobacco taxes combined.

Colorado may get about $100 million a year in tax revenue, and Washington could get $310 million. But there is wide disagreement on appropriate tax rates for marijuana. Colorado will be asking voters to approve two sales taxes totaling 25%, while Washington is looking to tax producers, sellers, and buyers — for a total haul of 75%. That might be so high that it keeps the underground market alive.

Unquestionably, a loosening of marijuana laws would ease burdens on law enforcement. Some 663,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2011, up 32% since 1995. In New York, according to the pro-legalization Drug Policy Center, a pot bust typically requires 2.5 hours of a policeman’s time. Until Mayor Michael Bloomberg changed the policy in February, the arrested automatically spent a night in the police lockup. Nationwide, some 128,000 people are in state or federal prisons for marijuana offenses. That’s 8% of all U.S. prisoners.

Norm Stamper, former chief of the Seattle Police Department, thinks Washington’s new law will be a big help. “It will give the police an opportunity to focus much more time, energy, and imagination on going after predatory criminals,” he says. Legalization, he adds, also has “opened the door to a much more positive relationship between young people and police.”

LITTLE WONDER that more than half of the states have loosened their marijuana rules. Starting with Oregon in 1973, 15 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug, which means it’s illegal but lightly punished, typically with a $100 fine; 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana possession and sale for medical purposes, such as easing the pain of cancer. In all, the number of states taking at least one step to liberalize their pot laws is 26. Two more got ready to join last month: The Illinois legislature passed a medical-marijuana bill, and the Vermont legislature passed a decriminalization bill. Both bills await signing by the states’ governors.

The federal government, however, has not moved toward legalization, not one bit. In fact, the states with medical-marijuana laws are defying or ignoring the federal government, which classifies marijuana as a drug with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of acceptable safety, even for use under medical supervision. Efforts to persuade regulators to change the classification of marijuana have been rejected over and over, as recently as 2011.

Matt Nager
Doug Fisher tends to business at Aloha’s Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Milner, Colo.
Emboldened by a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that allows federal prohibition to trump state legalization, the feds have arrested owners of some of the medical dispensaries in California, a state that has permitted dispensaries to operate since 1996. It’s entirely unclear how Uncle Sam is going to react when retail sales go into full swing in Colorado and Washington. Attorney General Eric Holder has been promising to produce a policy, but nothing has yet emerged from the Justice Department.

To eliminate the conflicts, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, last month introduced a bill to require the feds to respect state laws on marijuana. “The Herculean effort undertaken by the federal government to prevent the American people from smoking marijuana has undeniably been a colossal failure,” he says. Lacking a groundswell of bipartisan support, however, Rohrabacher’s bill is considered to have no chance of passage.

"It is likely that we are going to proceed state by state, and that Congress will be unlikely to touch this issue with a pole of any length," says William Galston of the Brookings Institution. "We may very well be a patchwork nation for the next generation."

OTHER STATES WILL JOIN the patchwork as more state officials take a cue from Gavin Newsom, lieutenant governor of California and former mayor of San Francisco. “I was a coward a couple of years ago,” he says, referring to the days when he opposed legalization. He switched positions after concluding that legalization would be an important step in his vision for criminal-justice reform.

Newsom, who owns a collection of bars, restaurants, and wineries, also has a more fundamental issue with pot prohibition. “When I’m watching a guy do shots of Jack Daniel’s at my bar, I’m thinking, ‘That’s legal, but a guy at home with his wife on a weekend smoking marijuana is illegal?’ It’s absurd.”

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Though he hopes to guide California to legalization, Newsom says the state will first have to improve the regulation of its medical-marijuana dispensaries: “So many of us have had the experience where you’re stuck at a traffic light, and you look across the street at a dispensary, and you see a lot of young folks running in and out, and you may even turn the corner and see folks reselling the drug.” Until that problem is fixed, he says voters may not believe the state can monitor full legalization.

Another prerequisite: stronger spines in politicians. Many legislators, in California and elsewhere, are fearful of backlashes from antilegalization groups, which warn of increases in crime and harm to youths and families. But eventually, elected officials may come around. Newsom, who is up for re-election in November, hopes to set an example: “If I win and these groups don’t come after me, I’ve got to think some other people will say, ‘Hey, they didn’t come after him — maybe it’s not as politically toxic as we thought.’ “

PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT hurdle for the legalization movement will be the experiences in Colorado and Washington state. If other states are to move toward legalization, these two pioneers will have to demonstrate that legal pot markets can function smoothly and safely.

Though the details of the states’ regulations have yet to be hammered out, the bottom line for consumers in both states is similar: If you are over 21, you’ll be able to freely buy pot at licensed retail outlets. Already, you can possess as much as an ounce of marijuana, so long as you don’t use it in public.

The bills signed by Colorado’s governor last week included provisions for curbing drugged driving: You can’t get behind the wheel if your blood contains more than five nanograms per milliliter of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, marijuana’s key component. A pot smoker can get to that level with as little as one puff, but the numbers decline rapidly over the next three hours, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Colorado also took steps to prevent marijuana use among youths, making it a crime to share pot with someone under 21 and banning marketing that seems aimed at kids. It’s easy to see why the state is worried. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that 2.6 million Americans had tried marijuana for the first time in 2011, and their average age was 17. The new pot smokers were more numerous than the 2.4 million Americans who smoked tobacco cigarettes for the first time in 2011, whose average age was also 17. Alcohol was still the most popular among recreational substances, with 4.7 million Americans estimated to have taken their first drink in 2011 — 83% of them younger than age 21.

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The push for marijuana legalization can’t afford any slip-ups by Colorado or Washington in dealing with the youth population or anything else. “You’re one tragedy away in Colorado and Washington from it not being an inevitability,” says California’s Newsom. On the other hand, he says, success in those states would bode well for legalization in his state and others.

Last month, the legalization movement got a lift from beyond U.S. borders. The Organization of American States, a consortium of nations in North, Central, and South America, released a report suggesting the legalization of marijuana be considered as a step in the war on drugs.

The last president of Mexico, Felip Calderón, had done something of the same. He was the first Mexican president to broach the idea of drug legalization while still in office. And he wasn’t just talking about Mexico. “Our neighbor is the largest consumer of drugs in the world,” Calderón said in 2011. “And everybody wants to sell him drugs though our doors and windows. If the consumption of drugs cannot be limited, then decision makers must seek more solutions — including market alternatives — in order to reduce the astronomical earnings of criminal organizations.”

Calderón left office last year, and his successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, flatly opposes legalization of drugs. Marijuana use, he says, often leads users to harder drugs. Nieto’s position is no doubt heartening to drug lords, whose money makes them very powerful in Mexican politics. Legalization in Mexico, it’s fair to say, faces formidably long odds.

THE U.S. GOVERNMENT, for its part, should at least move to eliminate the widespread confusion between state and federal laws over marijuana use, which has been reaching absurd proportions. Banks in California, for instance, are so unclear about where things stand that they won’t let medical-marijuana dispensaries open accounts. As a result, many of the stores are run as cash businesses, inviting robberies. To pay taxes, some are showing up at the state’s revenue department with bags of cash.

Whether Congress realizes it or not, a good number of citizens want the problem fixed. The same Pew study that found a majority of people favoring legalization also found that 60% of Americans think the federal government should not enforce its prohibition in states that permit marijuana use. And 72% agreed with the proposition that federal enforcement of marijuana laws is not worth the cost.

Rep. Rohrabacher’s plan is as good a fix as any. It’s straightforward and sensible: The federal government can help enforce antipot laws in states that want them, but it must mind its own business in states that don’t want marijuana to be criminal.

Eventually, the federal government may repeal all of its laws against pot use, pot production, and pot dealing.

They could be replaced by laws no tougher than those that apply to liquor. Just as it was with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Congress could allow states to continue pot prohibition by local option, or to draft their own regulatory systems.

Given the unwillingness of many in Congress to even talk about marijuana, the day of full repeal is probably far off. But tending to the clumsy conflicts between state and federal governments is something that can and should be addressed right now.

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Fixing California: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom

By U-T San Diego Editorial Board 5 p.m.June 1, 2013

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is one of the few Democratic leaders in California to understand the depth and severity of the economic problems still facing the state. He was recently interviewed in San Francisco by U-T Editorial/Opinion Director William Osborne in connection with the U-T Editorial Board’s “Fixing California” project.

Q: Voters approved Proposition 30 in November, increasing income taxes on wealthy individuals and sales taxes for everyone. A number of people from Gov. Brown to East Coast pundits have said it sparked a “California comeback.” What is your assessment of the state of the state?

A: On the surface things look to have improved significantly. But we have to look at the plumbing, what lies beneath. I think you’ve got a governor who gets that, intellectually. I think he’s been very judicious at fully embracing and understanding the magnitude of the challenge, not just the “wall of debt” related to that $30-plus billion that’s staring us in the face, but the issue of unfunded health care and retirement liabilities.

The economy is improving. Unemployment of 9.4 percent is hardly something to jump up about but it’s better than the 10.7 last year. We’re seeing improvements in the housing market, which is going to be significant in terms of any recovery in the (inland) part of the state. We’re seeing pockets of innovation, energy, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades here that put us back on the map, certainly here in the Bay Area and parts of San Diego and elsewhere that are doing particularly well in some respects.

That said, you still have 1.7 million people that are actively seeking employment that can’t find it. You still hear in Colusa County that the unemployment rate was 23.9 percent. And Imperial is right behind it. We still have 11 counties north of 15 percent. We’re a coastal economy and an inland economy. You’ve got unfunded liabilities related to the wall of debt and that has not been addressed. But we have a budget that at least has a plan that, between now and 2017, starts paying that down. We’ll see if we’re able to achieve that. But at least his budget sets out that course.

We have over $10 billion we project by the end of the year in liabilities on the unemployment insurance fund, which no one talks about. We’ve got our own advertised $181 billion problem with pensions. You’ve got double that by most pundits and some at Stanford would argue it’s close to half a trillion dollars. …

So it makes the case that Prop. 30 is not funding students in our public schools. It’s funding pension liabilities. And the argument is based on some legitimate, factual evidence to suggest that’s exactly what’s happening. … It wasn’t about increasing money going into the classroom. And any assertion about that is now countered with the weight of evidence.

Q: What about the broader California economy?

A: There’s no economic development plan. There’s no export plan. There’s no manufacturing or industrial policy. There’s no plan to reorient our efforts to be more aggressive, to market and promote, not just new business growth and recruitment, but existing business support to make the case for those businesses that want to continue to grow in California. There’s no organized, disciplined effort. There are reactive efforts. There’s good will that is increasingly taking shape legislatively, meaning I think most people would acknowledge the need to prioritize the issue of jobs and economy. And there’s some good bills periodically coming out. And there’s been some things the governor’s done that I give him credit for.

But there’s not a movement. And you can’t change the trajectory of the economy in the state without a movement, a foundational acknowledgment that something dramatic needs to take shape. …

What’s the implementation strategy? What’s the intensity of focus to build a bottom-up strategy of regions rising together to begin to reconcile the disparities that exist in the state. We have 38.5 percent poverty rates in Fresno. Three of the five top impoverished metro areas in America are in California. And I don’t think two-thirds of the Democrats know that. We tend to focus most of our attention where our votes are and where our constituency is out on the coast. But there’s nothing significant happening and we have not begun to reconcile it.

Q: One of the most common complaints about California is that it has a very unfriendly business climate. It sounds like you agree with that.

A: I think it’s wildly overstated. It isn’t the state that I complain about. Every county’s got different rules and regulations. Every city’s got different rules and regulations. And you have all the regional agencies. And that’s why any effort to get this economy to move again has to align all of those cities and counties and regional agencies with the state and federal agencies. And that’s where we’re failing.

We keep thinking Sacramento from the top down is going to fix this. Sacramento needs to lead, but the movement needs to be bottom up in terms of those alignments.

That said, if it’s just about dollars and cents, of course, it’s one of the most challenging business climates in America. If it’s just about income tax or about a corporate tax rate, etc. For certain types of businesses the regulatory environment is very burdensome. For most other types of businesses, they’re more worried about a board of supervisors passing some crazy law that’s going to burden them more than anything the state can do.

Q: So what does the state do about that?

A: Begin to acknowledge the problem and build a baseline across the state and begin to get the regions together to begin to align some economic development strategy and then in turn workforce development strategies.

Q: Why are you pretty much the only Democrat in California who talks like that?

A: I’m the progressive when it comes to social (issues). I want to deal with the issue of ignorance, poverty and disease. I want to invest more money in higher education. I want to be more strategic in terms of our efforts to modernize our 21st century outlook, our K-12 educational system and realign our strategies on welfare and issues of homelessness. You can’t do that unless we’re generating revenue. You can’t tax your way to prosperity. But I also argue we can’t cut our way out of there. So we’ve got to grow it. We’ve got to. And that should be the dominant theme of Democrats. There’s nothing more important for progressives than the issue of jobs and the economy and dealing with the issue of entitlements, because it is simply crowding out all the things we claim to care about.

Q: Do you believe that there is a connection between California’s tax structure and regulatory agencies and the fact that we still have a 9.4 percent unemployment rate and that we’re so slow coming out of the recession.

A: Absolutely from a perception perspective, and perception becomes reality. There’s no question about that. There were 286,000 jobs created in the last 12 months. We sit up there and we celebrate, say we’re outperforming all these other states; now California is back. That’s cyclical; it’s not structural. It’s not because of any intentionality. We’ve just been the beneficiary of the macro turnaround. …

We were the center pole of the American economy in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s and then we flatlined since 1980 to 2010. We’ve become average. The nation has actually outperformed California in job creation in the last three decades. We’ve got to assert ourselves again, get back on top. And that requires intentionality and focus.

If you want to bring manufacturing back (Proposition 13) is the only thing these folks have. It sure as hell ain’t energy cost in the next three, four years. It ain’t the litigation environment and all the environmental regulation you have to go through. …

We have to have that conversation about real reform that can incentivize growth, job opportunity, risk-taking and entrepreneurial spirit. We’re not having that right now. … Of course there’s a link. …

We’ve lost sight. We are just arguing to be a little bit better than everybody else. That’s not inspiring. That doesn’t raise the spirit or expectation or sense of pride. And I want that coast of dreams back again. I want that pioneering spirit that defines the best of the state. We’ve got to bring that back because we have all the ingredients. I’m not negative. I’m completely positive on California. But we’ve got to reinvest in those engines of growth and we’ve got to reform our delivery system and regulatory system and our tax system in order to be competitive.

Q: California has always been aggressively pro-environment. Sometimes that butts heads with the economy. And there’s a big one coming up in hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas — fracking. A lot of people think that hydraulic fracturing could be the answer to California’s financial problems. What’s your view of that?

A: Where the science leads us. Gov. Brown has positioned himself thoughtfully on this. Let the science take it to what it is.

Q: Can you be more specific about the need for reform of the California Environmental Quality Act?

A: You could be married and divorced with two kids in the time it takes to go through a perfect CEQA process — 18 months. It’s crazy. Who the hell decided it should be 18 months? Where’d that come from? Nothing should take 18 months.

Q: What about AB 32, the law that was passed with great intention to combat global warming? A huge part of the motivation was that California will lead and the rest of the world will follow. Well, the rest of the world hasn’t followed. And California is out there now alone with significantly increased energy costs largely because of AB 32.

A: I’ve always been of the opinion if not us, then who? I mean, where does change ever occur if someone’s not willing to put themselves out first? And change tends to start at the local level, state level and work its way up.

We can’t be ideological about its application and implementation. We can’t be rigid on our rule making. We’ve got to be flexible. I want to make it work. I believe California should lead in terms of environmental stewardship. I believe you can have a low-carbon, green-growth strategy. We can do that and grow the economy.

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Making progress: Gov. Jerry Brown signed bill to use $24M from background-check fees to boost a program that takes handguns & assault weapons away from those who aren’t legally allowed to have them.

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Marshawn Lynch and many other great people joined my sister, Hilary, and I today to raise money for Breast Cancer awareness at the 14th Annual PlumpJack/LINK Golf Classic, in memory of my mom, Tess Newsom.View more Gavin Newsom on WhoSay

Marshawn Lynch and many other great people joined my sister, Hilary, and I today to raise money for Breast Cancer awareness at the 14th Annual PlumpJack/LINK Golf Classic, in memory of my mom, Tess Newsom.

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It is time for California to decriminalize, tax and regulate marijuana and decide who sells it, who can buy it legally, and for how much. When California became the first state to approve medical marijuana, we led the nation on progressive drug policies, and now it is time to lead again.

Bolstered by growing public support and building on our initial leadership, Californians must renew our push for common-sense marijuana policy by developing a state level regulatory system and lead the national effort to end draconian laws that favors incarceration over education.

In California, San Francisco has taken the lead in reforming ineffective drug laws and changing the conversation around substance use. Medical marijuana laws, marijuana decriminalization, and the efforts to reduce the state’s prison population make us a strong voice for change. But it is not enough. We stand at a time where science and common sense must trump age-old fear and propaganda.

San Francisco pioneered and advanced innovative programs to reduce the harms of substance misuse by using alternative adjudicative action, using drug and community courts as an alternative to the traditional criminal court system and sentencing. It involved connecting people to treatment and mental health services, housing and resources for education and training.  San Francisco has invested significant local tax dollars in providing substance treatment to those who need it, but San Francisco is just one city – and it is not enough.

The U.S. leads the world in the incarceration of its citizens, with less than 5% of the world’s population but almost 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. In 2011, 757, 969 people in the United States were arrested for a marijuana law violation and of those, 87 percent were arrested possession only, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. 

I am not advocating for the use of marijuana, but the current laws are stigmatizing and criminalizing millions of Americans young and old. The war on drugs has become a war on society and we can and must do better.

It is time for marijuana to be removed from the federal government’s most restrictive category of drugs, where it currently sits alongside heroin. But in the absence of the federal government acting, California must lead again.

In the November 2012 general election, Colorado and Washington became the first states to decriminalize possession and growth of small amounts of marijuana and create a system for taxing and regulating the product for adults over 21. California needs do the same.  Even organizations such as the California Medical Association recognize taxation and regulation as a preferred policy for controlling marijuana.

Marijuana prohibition has caused irreparable harm to millions of people by saddling them with criminal records and the collateral sanctions associated with even marijuana misdemeanors, such as the potential loss of employment, housing, financial aid and child custody. These sanctions and penalties fall disproportionally on African Americans and Latinos, devastating entire communities for generations.

According to the ACLU, African Americans make up 50 percent of the state and local prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes. An African American male is as likely to go to jail or prison, as he is to go to college. African American children are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white ones – even though white children are 11 percent more likely to abuse drugs than their African American peers. Locking people up for simple drug possession puts them in a virtually inescapable position for the rest of their lives, making every step to success and self-sufficiency more difficult.

Changing marijuana laws is one important part of shifting the drug policy paradigm from a criminal framework to one of public health. But it is not enough. Decriminalizing marijuana alone will not solve America’s problem with mass incarceration.

Forty-two years and $1 trillion later, we recognize the “War on Drugs” has not only failed but also created inter-generational social problems that will likely take as long to solve. There is no reason why California cannot set the example for the nation in responding to drugs in a rational and sensible way. It is time to be bold enough to consider the science and the examples set forth by other states and nations.

The time has come to decriminalize, tax and regulate marijuana – anything less is not enough.

Cowardly vote, shameful day

The President got what he asked for today in his State of the Union Address – a vote. In fact, he got several votes. A handful of shameful, cowardly votes against a safer country for our children.

In a State of the Union address that moved the country, President Obama intoned over and again, “They deserve a vote.” But today the United States Senate voted and let down the victims of gun violence, their families and the American people.

 One by one, in a series of votes on the Senate floor, amendments to address gun violence in this country failed.  An amendment by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-San Francisco) that would have banned assault weapons as well as another by Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) on background checks failed passage, along with a stream of others.

The most disturbing defeat is that of Toomey-Manchin, a watered down amendment that would have provided for expanded, but not universal, background checks. Senator after senator rose on the floor to oppose the measure spouting the talking points of the National Rifle Association. Talking points that are flat out lies. Even with the authors of the amendment on the floor asking and answering questions for other senators, the lies, half-truths and scare tactics of the NRA won the day by a vote of 54 to 46.

While I respect Republican Senator Toomey for appearing to work in a bipartisan manner with Senator Manchin, I have to question his commitment to real action when, within minutes of his co-authored amendment failing, his statement to the press included the line “the Senate has spoken on the subject, and it’s time to move on.” Was this a thoughtful attempt at real legislation or was this Senator Toomey’s attempt to check a box in his next election so he could claim to the people of Pennsylvania, “I tried.”

 While Mr. Toomey moves on, I hope the President and Democratic leaders in Washington understand that the American people have not. It is not acceptable for politicians to claim they have tried and put this issue on the shelf again until another Virginia Tech, Aurora, Newtown, Tucson or Columbine occurs.

The Democratic leadership in Washington, DC must demand more than just a vote; they must demand real and meaningful action. If we cannot muster the 60 votes for a watered down Toomey-Manchin Amendment, we will never achieve meaningful reforms such as universal background checks, banning assault weapons or limiting the capacity of a gun magazine.

 We are the majority party. The people of the United States voted to give Democrats control of the Senate and it is time that Senator Harry Reid and his leadership team start acting the part.

 In a recent discussion with a senior member of the United States Senate, he waxed nostalgically about how back in the good old days all we needed was 50 votes plus one to get things passed. That democratic principal still applies, so maybe it’s time the leadership in the Senate had some guts and started playing hardball.

 If we allow our ideas, rather than our ideology, to carry the day then the voters will have a clear and distinct choice in the voting booth. But to allow a small handful of cowardly Democrats and the likes of Ted Cruz stall what the people are demanding, tells Americans their votes don’t count as much as the NRA’s money.

 When it comes to guns, the people of the United States no longer care about political party values. They care about getting results.

For their sake, and that of our party, I hope the President and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stay true to their word that today was not the end and the theatre of votes that took place on the Senate floor will not be the last act.

 If this is the end of the debate until the next tragedy, hopefully the voters will speak at the ballot box and replace these cowards with U.S. Senators that will do the right thing to protect our children from gun violence and honor the many that have already lost their lives.

Because we all deserve more than just a vote…we deserve action.

Is the bar on bipartisan achievement really this low?

While Washington, DC congratulates itself for today’s bipartisan Toomey-Manchin proposal on background checks, the rest of the country is still waiting for meaningful gun control and mental health reform.

Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced what is supposed to be significant legislation on guns. What we received is yet another show-pony piece of legislation that falls well short of universal background checks and does nothing to address the underlying issues of mental health and gun violence in America.

As Senator Toomey stood in the press conference announcing the so-called bipartisan compromise, he acknowledged that the proposal was not gun control legislation. I couldn’t agree more.

The proposed bill will extend current law to non-federally licensed persons engaged in the business of selling guns and require purchases of their guns be subject to background checks. So the gun show loophole presumably gets closed, but the bill continues to protect non-federally licensed private sales and transfers without background checks.

The most troublesome part of this faux reform is that the proposal does nothing to address the 20 percent of private gun sales that the U.S. Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) estimates are part of trafficking or gun diversion criminal enterprises.

Because this proposal does nothing to require background checks on private sales, where plenty of illegal firearms already change hands, the Senators’ proposal will further drive those that should not own guns into the underground, private sales market. 

Is this progress? I guess you can call it that in the same way you can call rolling forward five feet in rush hour traffic on Highway 101 progress too.

 If politicians are serious about addressing the symptoms and the disease of gun violence in America this proposal can’t be the end of the line in Washington, DC.  The leadership in Congress needs to step up and bring everything forward for a vote, not just the paltry measure sponsored by Senators Toomey and Manchin.

Where is the assault weapons ban? Where is the limitation on high-capacity magazines? Where is the ban on trafficking and straw purchasing? And dammit, where is the real discussion about mental health reform?

 The answer to all but the last question above is “nowhere to be found” because the biggest bully on Capitol Hill, the NRA, doesn’t want any of these measures to see the light of day.

 The first clue that today’s proposal was weak came within minutes of the bill’s announcement when the NRA released a statement calling the measure “a positive development” because it rejected the universal background check plan that is being supported by President Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg and voters nationwide.

 So congratulations Senators, today you gave us a proposal that the NRA isn’t opposing, but you’ve ignored what 90 percent of Americans say they want – universal background checks.

 When will Washington realize that doing the bare minimum is not enough?

 Shame on you.

With @SenJohnsonSD’s announcement today, a total of 54 U.S. Senators support #marriageequality.

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