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[whitespace] Reed Hastings Getting Schooled: High-tech honchos like Reed Hastings are battling the California Teachers Association over a bill to unionize charter schools.

Techno Schizo

In valley politics, elected officials--most of whom are Democrats in these parts--must pay heed to the whims and wants of both high-tech and organized labor. That's why a bill in the state Legislature that seeks to unionize charter schools--and thus pits high-tech against labor--could very well prove a loyalty test for local politicos. The bill, AB 842, is being sponsored by the powerful California Teachers Association. It would require teachers at charter schools to be members of the area's collective bargaining unit. Not surprisingly, high-tech heavyweights like E-entrepreneur Reed Hastings consider AB 842 a poison pill to the free-wheeling charter schools system. "If this bill passes," declares Wade Randlett, a consultant for the Technology Network, the industry's lobbying and political arm, "it is the end of charter schools in California." ... With its two masters on opposing sides, the response from the valley's Democratic delegation in the Assembly has been borderline schizophrenic. For example, Fremont rep John Dutra and Santa Clara lawmaker Elaine Alquist seemed to side with labor at first, voting to pass the bill out of the retirement and education committees. But Randlett says that Dutra only passed the bill out of committee as a "courtesy" to its author, Carole Migden. And an aide to Alquist now says that despite Lady Al's earlier vote, "she's not going to vote for it on the floor," but doesn't elaborate. Palo Alto Assemblyman Ted Lempert also says he can't back the bill in its current form, though he could be persuaded to change his mind with the right amendments. Of the local Assembly Dems, only Mike Honda seems to have no reservations about the bill: He's already voted for it twice in two different committees. ... For the moment, the bill has been shelved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and the CTA plans to amend it to woo more votes. Should it ultimately land on the desk of Gray Davis, the guv himself could be put in a peculiar spot between his union backers and high-tech pals such as Regis McKenna and venture capitalist Brook Byers. As one tech-industry observer puts it: "We'll see if Davis has the balls to say no to labor on this."

School Rules

Of course, labor and high-tech aren't always in disagreement. To wit: The aforementioned Reed Hastings and the California Teachers Association are teaming up to pass an initiative to reduce from two-thirds to a simple majority the vote needed to pass local school bonds for new educational facilities. Heading the campaign, known as "Let's Fix Our Schools," is Sacramento consultant Gale Kaufman. The signature drive, which began May 7, has 120 days to gather 670,816 signatures to qualify for next March's primary ballot. Kaufman expects to spend about $1 million on that effort and another $10 million to pass the initiative. Let's Fix Our Schools would also require public schools to make their facilities available, at a price, to charter schools. "That's where Reed comes in," Kaufman says. Expect the campaign to have plenty of money to get off the ground. Last year Hastings, who is now running an Internet DVD movie rental website, shelled out more campaign dough than Rob Reiner, Ernest Gallo and Rupert Murdoch combined. According to a report by the L.A. Times, Hastings topped the list of all individual campaign contributors for 1998, spending $3.35 million--much of it in trying to qualify a charter schools initiative for the ballot. That effort was withdrawn after a compromise was engineered by Assemblyman Ted Lempert boosting the number of charter schools allowed in the state.

Jousting for Junkets

Authorizing the junkets of fellow councilmembers is usually a rubberstamp affair in San Jose. Thus it came as a modest surprise when Councilwoman Alice Woody recently objected to sending Councilman Manny Diaz to Philadelphia for five days in June to attend the annual conference of the Association of National Latino Elected Officials. To be more precise, Woody didn't want to use money from the depleted "council general" account--a pool of money shared among the 10 council members for general expenses--to pay for Manny's schmoozing excursion. Woody argued that the council needs to give priority to traveling councilors like herself who hold leadership positions in policy-related associations like the National League of Cities. In the past, Woody groused, the council general travel budget--which is $25,600 this year--has been exhausted before the end of the year, forcing a few do-gooders to pay for League trips from their own office accounts. In response, Ramblin' Manny volunteered to use his own office funds to pay for his upcoming trip. But that didn't necessarily solve the issue. Mayoral budget boss Joe Guerra predicts that the council will exceed its general travel budget this year.

Name Calling

The May 12 ceremony to honor police officers slain in the line of duty since 1850 was a mostly somber affair. But at one point the cops in attendance almost burst out laughing, thanks to a slip of the tongue by assistant sheriff Tom Sing. It seems that Sing introduced Sheriff Laurie Smith--his campaign opponent in the primary last June--as Sheriff Laurie Gillingham, inadvertently using the last name of Smith's predecessor, Chuck Gillingham. Smith, to her credit, took the flub in stride, though she did impose a mild punishment. "I told him to write my name on the blackboard 20 times," Smith reveals. ... A quick postscript: Former sheriff candidate Ruben Diaz, who, we last heard, was on administrative leave, applied for the police chief's job in Salinas. Unfortunately for Diaz, the job went to San Jose deputy chief Daniel

Likud Nitrogen

Last week Eye reported on the political candidacy of former Silicon Valley wunderkind Avi Ben-Abraham, who was running for a seat in the Israeli Knesset. Ben-Abraham, once the president of the American Cryonics Society, hobnobbed with presidential candidates, sports greats and Hollywood actresses; now it appears his rising star may have lost a bit of its brilliance with the trouncing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the hands of the Labor Party's Ehud Barak. Ben-Abraham had the 27th seat on the Likud ticket. The latest news reports forecast Likud winning only 19 seats, leaving the former body freezer out in the cold. By contrast, in 1996 the Bibi-led list commanded 32 seats. But don't count out adventurous Avi just yet. After all, this is a guy who was once the world's youngest M.D.s, has one of the planet's highest documented IQs and made millions in the biotech industry. And if his political fortunes stall for a while, he can always defrost himself and run for prime minister 200 years from now.

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From the May 20-26, 1999 issue of Metro.

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