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Archive for 2009



Burton Takes a Duck on Special Election Props

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

For a guy known as a cut-to-the-bone straight talker, John Burton sounded awfully bashful when we asked him about the May 19 special election.

Burton, expected to win slam-dunk election as the new chair of the California Democratic Party at its convention this weekend in Sacramento, dodged and demurred when Calbuzz asked where he stands on the half-dozen contentious initiatives on next month’s ballot.

Rather than declaring his views, Burton resorted to a famous line delivered by Peter Sellers, in the 1959 British flick “I’m All Right, Jack,” in which the comic actor plays a trade unionist suspected of being a communist:

“My politics are a matter between my conscience and the ballot box,” said Burton, channeling Sellers.

Burton being Burton, there are any number of possible explanations for his reticence about the May 19 Einstein Election, in which the governor and Democratic legislative leaders have foisted a batch of complicated budget issues before voters:

  1. On the eve of the election for party chair, he didn’t want to get between elected officials, who mostly support the props, and activists, many of whom don’t.
  2. He wanted to be respectful of the convention process, in which delegates are expected to take up resolutions about the props.
  3. Like Jerry Brown (up to a few days ago), he hasn’t read them yet.
  4. He was just being a prick.

In any case, pressed on the question of whether his lifelong bleeding heart liberalism would allow him to back some of the permanent budget cuts that would result if Prop. 1A is passed, Mr. Almost Chairman responded with a classic Burtonism:

“I think when it’s all over, the ones getting fucked will be the poor people.”

The 76-year old seabiscuit — a former state senate leader, assemblyman and congressman — was slightly more forthcoming when we asked him why, exactly, he wanted to be party chairman:

“The power and the glory,” he snarled. (Burton omitted any mention of the money, although the $133,000 salary for party chair matches that of his old job as senate president pro tem).

While his only opponent, party volunteer Chris Finnie, wants to make big changes in the mission and operations of the party, Burton was very clear that his top priorities would be protecting and expanding the Democrats’ hold over elected offices in California.

“We have a very important election next year,” he said. “We have a need for a Democratic governor, we got reapportionment, we have to re-elect Barbara (Boxer), and change the two-thirds vote” needed to pass a budget.

Over the past few months, Burton has been attacked by some netroots Democrats for his throwback, ward-heeler style, and accused of not being web savvy enough to lead the party in the 21st century.

“I got a Facebook, I got that shit,” he told Calbuzz, adding that he draws the line at tweeting on Twitter.

“That’s the way you’ve got to communicate now, and we’re going to be very current and techie in getting messages out quickly,” he added. “But am I going to have a computer attached to my rear end? No.”

The “vote” for party chair will take place Saturday.

Plot Thickens for Villaraigosa in LAPD vs. Hollywood Feud

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Partisans of Antonio Villaraigosa groused and grumbled about our Monday post disclosing how the L.A. mayor and wannabe governor is caught in a Big Squeeze between the LAPD and Hollywood filmmakers over security for location shoots.

But over at The Wrap, former NY Timeswoman Sharon Waxman’s cool site covering all things Hollywood, Michael Janofsky advances the ball on the story by reporting out details of the City Hall politics being played over the issue.

Waxman, BTW, is locked in a feud of her own, as she and the indomitable Nikki Finke of Deadline Hollywood Daily exchange fusillades of trash-talking over who has the Alpha site covering Tinsel Town, as the New York Observer observes in a juicy report here. (The fireworks are way down in the story.)

Whole Earth Democrat Seeks Party Chair for Grassroots

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

One measure of how Chris Finnie assesses her own chances of being elected California Democratic Party chair this weekend is the song she picked to be played when she’s introduced to speak to the delegates.

The opening lines of Abba’s “Take a Chance on Me” do not suggest an overwhelming confidence that she’ll prevail in the voting:

“If you change your mind, I’m the first in line,
Honey, I’m still free. Take a chance on me.”

The 59-year old Finnie, a grassroots, netroots, bran muffin activist from Boulder Creek who runs her own PR business, is matched in the leadership contest against Democratic war horse John Burton, who’ll enter the weekend as the safest bet since the U.S. took on Grenada.

“I started running because of how this unrolled as a sort of smoke-filled backroom deal,” she told Calbuzz. “Senator Burton leveraged his connections and years in office, and nailed down most of the delegates before he entered the race.

“He came through like the German army through North Africa –- it was a blitzkrieg,” Finnie added. “I came to the conclusion it was sort of a sham, and I didn’t like the feeling of being marginalized.”

A longtime Democratic foot soldier who worked in campaigns for Howard Dean, John Kerry, Barack Obama and Rep. Jerry McNerney, among others, Finnie has held a host of local and regional party posts, and believes there is a serious imbalance of power between volunteers and elected officials.

As evidence, she points to intraparty division over the May 19 special election, in which many activists are unhappy with program cuts mandated by Props. 1A, 1D and 1E, while officeholders shine them on, and line up in support of the measures behind Democratic legislative leaders.

She also is rankled by the Democrats’ decision not to run a candidate against Republican state senator Abel Maldonado in a competitive coastal district last year, after the GOP lawmaker threw a key budget vote to former senate leader Don Perata in 2007. She also believes the undue influence of incumbents has blocked a series of grassroots efforts to put the party on record against the death penalty.

“Electeds get into an exclusive club and they don’t want to play with us anymore, until they need us,” Finnie said. “We help them get elected and we pay their salaries . . . Then they’re telling us what we should support and not support instead of us telling them.”

Beyond her motive to change the party structure’s insider-outsider dynamic, Finnie said she has also been motivated to run by what she sees as Burton’s shabby treatment of her. When she called the 76-year old former senate leader late last year to tell him she was going to run, Burton was rude and dismissive, she said.

She asked some tough questions like: “Do you think your age is going to be a liability with all the traveling you have to do as party chairman?”

“He yelled at me and said, ‘I’m on a couple of medications but I’m in perfect health. That’s a stupid question.’”

Then according to Finnie, he added: “I’m going to win this thing and if anybody doesn’t like it they can go fuck themselves.”

(Burton disputes this account. And, honestly, who can imagine him talking like that?)

“What I want is a party that’s open, responsive and empowers activists,” said Finnie. “And he doesn’t have that to give me but he does have that to take away from me.”

“I’m actually running for power so I can give it away,” she added.

Tomorrow: An interview with John Burton.

Garamendi Jumps to Race for Congress

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

John Garamendi

The final tip-off that John Garamendi wasn’t going to run for governor came when Greg Lucas asked him on California’s Capitol this week about his first quarter fundraising and the lite gov gave some weasly, rambling, agri-answer about planting and reaping and sowing and harvesting or some such.

Last night, Garamendi spokesman Peter B. Collins made it official, announcing his guy would seek the 10th Congressional District seat being vacated by Ellen Tauscher, who got tapped for an administration job by Obama.

As for the political implications for the governor’s race of Garamendi taking a hike, well, there aren’t many, as Calbuzz reported a few weeks ago.

Today’s Must Read: WashTimes Probes Feinstein, Blum

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Reason #357 why Dianne Feinstein won’t run for governor: Today’s Washington Times carries a boffo investigative report detailing the senior senator from California’s legislative efforts “to route $25 billion in taxpayer money to a government agency that had just awarded her husband’s real estate firm a lucrative contract to sell foreclosed properties at compensation rates higher than the industry norms.”

Reporter Chuck Neubauer drills down in great detail to examine the coincidence of timing involved in Feinstein’s actions and the awarding of a lucrative contract to the commercial real estate firm headed by Dick Blum, her investment banker husband. His piece reports that spokesmen for Feinstein and for Blum’s firm insist neither did anything improper, and that the DC power couple make “an intensive effort” to maintain a wall between their financial interests.

The Dianne and Dick show may be as pure as the driven snow on this and every other Blum business eruption over the years, but the political bottom line was delivered in the WashTimes story by Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group:

The episode “highlights the problem of a senator with a spouse who has extensive business interests that intersect frequently with the federal government,” Sloan said. “Even if there is no actual conflict of interest, it often has the appearance of a conflict.”

As a political matter, the financial machinations of the deal matter far less than the fact that Feinstein again finds herself in a defensive posture, trying to explain her public actions in light of his private business dealings. It’s a story that has surfaced in various forms since the two wed when she was still mayor of San Francisco, and erupted periodically as she’s climbed the political ladder.

Should Feinstein choose to abandon the comforts of Georgetown for the rigors of the California campaign trail and run for governor next year, this and every other of the myriad deals Blum has consummated while she’s held high office, including those examined here and here will immediately become fodder for every mad dog opposition researcher, investigative gunslinger, skeptical political writer and tin-foil-hat blogger in the state, to the detriment of her characteristically earnest efforts to hold forth on the virtues of “governing from the center.”

We just sayin’.