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04.30.08

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Silicon Valley News Notes

I Love a Staff In Uniform

Everybody's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed staff. At least that's how Pete Constant sees it; in fact, the District 1 councilman had his very own Pete Constant uniform made for his staff last month. He had jackets, dress shirts, polo shirts and even lapel pins made with a Pete Constant District 1 logo that he designed. It's not required attire, but staffers are encouraged to attend community events and other District 1 festivities donning the Pete Constant clothing line. The whole point is to make his staff stand out at these events so that constituents and other folks know them, Constant said, and he claims that at a recent event, the uniform was a hit. "It looks professional for all of us to wear matching shirts and jackets," Constant said. "It really looked like we knew what we were doing." The new district dress has made Constant's staff the brunt of endless jokes on the 18th floor at City Hall. And yet, Constant says a handful of constituents have asked about buying their own Pete Constant jacket or shirt. Not for sale. Constant says he spent the $2,000 on the shirts and lapel pins to use up his office holder account. Last year, the council decided to discontinue office holder accounts for City Council members. Those accounts are funds that councilmembers raise to help cover the cost for various expenses that can't be covered with public funds, such as attending charity dinners and traveling to other events. Each councilmember has to get rid of the expense account by June 30. What are other councilmembers doing to get rid of the funds in their accounts? "We give our funds to nonprofits," said Ragan Henninger, council assistant for Councilman Sam Liccardo.


The Thicket of It

Quietly absorbing the short end of the Little Saigon stick are the Vietnamese-American candidates who are running for a seat on the San Jose City Council in the June 3 primary. Things gotten even stickier for them as the Vietnamese community last week officially launched their campaign to recall Councilmember Madison Nguyen. Already, some of those candidates have been peppered with questions from non-Vietnamese voters about how they might handle such a Viet-centric issue if elected. Lan Nguyen, who is running for the District 8 council seat and is not related to Madison Nguyen, says he's stayed far away from the Little Saigon issue and he has no plans to get near the recall effort. Instead, he's trying to win voters over by taking stands on positions they care about right now, traffic and crime, to name a few. "Non-Vietnamese didn't understand why this issue has become such a huge issue that took so much time and energy and focus," Nguyen said. "Unless I can articulate my visions and that I will not be sidetracked [by issues like Little Saigon], they wont trust their vote with me."For the most part, the Vietnamese candidates say they don't think the recall and the Little Saigon issue will earn them a bad rap among voters, especially since they are making a point to remain positionless on both issues.Minh Duong, also running for District 8, said he followed the Little Saigon issue, but declined to comment on the recall effort. Instead, he wanted to only talk bout his positions on issues that concern everyone in his district—traffic and crime to name a few. "Let bygones be bygones," Duong said of Little Saigon. "The voters do not care much about what's happening in the Viet community, they care about District 8 issues."


Beer Run

There are two issues guaranteed to get College Republicans frothing: taxes and beer. Put the two together and District 24 Assemblyman Jim Beall shouldn't have been surprised to see college Republicans from around the Bay Area descending on San Jose last Friday to protest his proposed increase in the beer tax. Beall, a member of the Assembly Select Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, wants a 30-cent tax increase on every can or bottle of suds sold in the state—he says California's measly 2-cent beer tax is lower than other states' and needs revamping. The money would create a trust fund to help pay for alcohol-related health care, underage drinking prevention programs and other booze-related causes. To the GOP Jr., though, this is nothing short of social injustice. "It's a 1,500 percent increase on a tax that will affect college students," said UCSC student Kaitlyn Shimmin, who organized the event on Facebook. "It's a regressive tax that will hurt poor people the most. It's not a democratic position to take on a new tax for poor college students. " The protest came to a head when students poured into the streets in front of Beall's downtown San Jose office. Their ringleader, UCSF student Leigh Wolf, wore khaki shorts and a striped polo shirt while shouting into a megaphone at passing cars. "Well, look who decided to show his face," boomed Wolf over the megaphone as Beall came out of his office to confront the protest. "That's ballsy, that's ballsy." Beall crossed the street to where Wolf was standing and asked him why the crowd was protesting in front of his office. "We oppose the beer tax. It's wrong," said Wolf, lowering the microphone. "It's going to affect us like you wouldn't believe, and I know you probably think this is just the funniest thing in the world—'here's these college students opposing the beer tax'—but I tell you what, sir, I tell you what. That's a lot of money to a college student." Wolf asked Beall what he did for fun when he was in college. "I worked hard, I had a job all the time," said Beall. "Well, so do we," Wolf replied. "So I don't understand why you want to tax the one thing we enjoy. I enjoy beer. And you're making it almost impossible to enjoy it the way we like to enjoy it." "Well, good," said Beall. "How do you think we should balance the state budget?" "Uh, cutting spending?" said Wolf. Wolf continued to shout about Democrats and taxes until Beall went back indoors, at which point the protest followed him into his office. There, Wolf and Beall had the same conversation all over again, with Wolf repeatedly comparing himself and the protestors to the Sons of Liberty, who planned the building of the nation while drinking in taverns. Beall listened to what he had to say, interrupting to mention statistics on fetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol-related crimes, before dismissing Wolf. Later, Wolf said he wanted the proposal to die a "quick and painful death" and vowed to return if it seemed like Beall's tax was making progress. Then he invited the other protesters to go drinking with him at Gordon Biersch.


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