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Archive for 2009



The Envelope Please: Winners and Losers from State Dem Meeting

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

If there’s one thing Calbuzz can’t stand, it’s that whole self – esteemy, kissy-mama “We’re All Winners” thing, where every rug rat who shows up for after-school league soccer practice goes home with a red ribbon and a cheesy trophy. Politics is all about winners and losers and there were plenty of each at the California Democratic Party state convention last weekend. Here’s our user-friendly guide to both:

Capitol Creaturesdebra-bowen-official-photo

Winner: Debra Bowen. The SOS, a young, smart and very competent rising star, got one of the weekend’s warmest receptions from the delegates. Not to mention, she’s one of the few denizens of Sacto without a single fingerprint on the budget debacle and the looming special election disaster.

Loser: Darrell Steinberg. In his maiden voyage into statewide visibility, the Dems’ state senate leader bet the house on the budget deal embodied by the May 19 ballot props. On Sunday, he lost the pot, when SEIU and AFSCME outmaneuvered him to block an endorsement of Prop. 1A; Steinberg’s post-game effort to declare victory was beyond lame, and only made matters worse.

Event Planner Optics

Winner: Tacos. Assemblyman Hector de la Torre, who’s running for Insurance Commissioner, showed a political talent that approaches sheer genius by throwing all his resources at the key feature of campaign organzing: free food. Hector’s taco giveaway on the K Street mall was mobbed by convention goers who made it among the best-attended events of the weekend.

Loser: The Blue Plymouth. The surprise appearance of AG Jerry Brown’s 1974 powder blue 150 hp, 318 cu. in. V8 Plymouth Satellite (list price $3,342), the iconic image of his first turn as governor, was sweet and sentimental, but it served to underscore the historic set piece nature of his event at the Governor’s Mansion, which itself is a museum, ferhevinsake.


Gubernatorial Gumption


Winner: Gavin Newsom. S.F’s pretty-boy mayor did everything he needed to do to introduce himself to party regulars and insiders in a big way, instantly establishing his credibility as a statewide candidate. If Prince Gavin learns to turn down his constant charm offensive a notch or two, he could be formidable.

Loser: Antonio Villaraigosa. We’re still searching for the urgent, this-just-in bulletins on the big “crisis” budget talks that forced the L.A. Mayor to stiff the convention at the last minute. Tony V’s already hampered by his inability to raise money for a gov’s race before late summer, and skipping what traditionally is the kickoff event didn’t help establish him as a force in the contest.

Special Interest Sweepstakes

Winner: SEIU and AFSCME. Fearful that Prop. 1A’s spending cap will mean lost jobs and wages for their members, the two public employee unions, with an assist from the liberal netroots, out-organized and out-hustled the Democratic legislative leadership to deny the 60% vote needed for a party endorsement of their deal-with-the-devil initiative. If 1A goes down, though, these same union leaders will be on the hook should the prop’s supporters be right in their sky-is-falling prognosis of more and worse budget cuts to come.

Loser: California Teachers Association. The teachers are in a truly awkward position, in bed with Arnold on Prop. 1A, in order to win approval for Prop. 1B, which is what they really want. The Demo delegates endorsed 1B all right, but it was a hollow victory for CTA ‘cause all bets are off unless 1A passes first. Despite heroic efforts by their consultants to fashion a silk purse, CTA is stuck with a sow’s ear.


Comic Relief

Winner: Tony V’s press guys’ line: “Antonio Villaraigosa is not going to Twitter while Rome burns.”

Loser: Bill Lockyer. To his credit, Mr. Treasurer tried to lighten things with a Power Point presentation of the Top 10 movie remakes to come out of the recession. But Good Lord, man, stop the droning and watch some Letterman re-runs: Top 10s only work if they’re short and punchy to the point.

Media Mavens


Winner: Carla Marinucci.
Watching Chron teammates take buy-outs by the score, the Chron’s political chief does it all, racing around and schmoozing at warp speed while covering all the bases, in print and online. She scored a coup by video-blogging Brown giving her a tour of the governor’s mansion, a scoop that turned Calbuzz green with envy.

Loser: Liberal bloggers. We love the energy, smarts and passion of our netroots colleagues on the left, but seriously, guys and gals, there’s no cheering in the press box. The sycophantic questions for Barbara Boxer were bad enough, but the applause at the end of her press avail was truly over the top.

Marketing Strategy

Winner: Ben Tulchin, of Tulchin Research in San Francisco, who dropped a governor’s race poll into the mediasphere just before the convention opened, guaranteeing that it would generate buzz –- positive and negative, alike — for his newly-established survey firm.

Loser: Traditional news media. If their survival depends on making themselves indispensable to their hometown readers, the newspapers demonstrated anew that they’re 24 hours late and $14.95 a month (or whatever the going subscription rate is) short.

Field Poll: All 5 Budget Props Look Like Losers

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

The budget measures, Propositions 1A through 1E are losing. Prop. 1F, limiting state officials’ salaries when the state is in deficit, is headed for a big win. Here are the results from today’s Field Poll release.

Prop. 1A (Rainy Day Budget Stabilization Fund)

This proposition, which would establish a “rainy day” budget reserv and, limit state spending, is trailing by nine points – 49% No, 40% Yes and 11% undecided.

Prop. 1B (Education Funding)
Prop. 1B, the measure that would provide supplemental funding to local schools and community colleges, is also behind by nine points – 49% No vs. 40% Yes, with 11% undecided.

Prop. 1C (Lottery Modernization)
The measure receiving the least support is Prop. 1C. It calls for modernizing the state lottery and borrowing against its future proceeds. Likely voters are opposing it 59% to 32%.

Prop. 1D (Children’s Services Funding)
This measure would transfer early childhood development monies out of the California Children and Families Program to the state general fund. Voters divide 49% No, 40% Yes, with 11% undecided.

Prop. 1E (Mental Health Funding)
Prop. 1E would temporarily transfer funds currently allocated to mental health programs under the Mental Health Services Act to the state general fund. Currently 51% are voting No and 40% Yes.

Prop. 1F (Elected Officials Salaries)
This proposition, which would bar legislative and statewide constitutional officers from receiving pay raises when the state is running a budget deficit, is overwhelmingly supported, 71% Yes to 24% No.

One in three likely voters say they will vote no on all the budget measures — Propositions 1A-1E. Half the Republican are withholding support for each of the five measures.

Six in 10 voters, including majorities of both those intending to vote Yes or No, recognize that if Prop. 1A is approved it will extend for up to two years recent increases in the state’s sales tax, vehicle registration fee and income tax.

However, there is a widespread skepticism that if passed Prop. 1A would be successful in either limiting the size of future budget deficits or slowing the rate of future state pending growth. By 51-39% voters believe it is not likely that Prop. 1A would limit the size of future state budget deficits. And, by 61-32% voters are not convinced that passage of Prop 1A would slow the rate of growth of future state spending.

By a 47-41% likely voters are inclined to believe that the defeat of the budget-related measures would make the state’s budget problem even worse than it is now by increasing the size of the deficit by about $6 billion. Democrats are more likely to agree with this statement than Republicans and non-partisans.

But voters are much more inclined to agree that if the budget measures are defeated it would send a message to the governor and the legislature that voters are tired of more government spending and higher taxes. Statewide, 72% agree with this statement. Republicans hold to this view by a six to one margin, while non-partisans concur greater than three to one. Even 60% of Democrats agree.

The Field Poll surveyed 901 registered voters in California April 16-26, including 422 likely voters in the May 19 special election. The margin of error among likely voters is +/- 4.9 percentage points.

Taxes and Torture: Boxer’s Profiles in Courage (and Cowardice)

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer made sure everyone at the Democratic state convention boxer1understood that she’s really, really pleased about her own special brand of political courage.

“Time after time I had to face down the defenders of the status quo,” she told delegates, in a Saturday speech that formally announced her re-election bid without a hint of humility.

“I have never been afraid to stand up to anyone,” she further assured delegates and the media. “I have never been afraid to stand alone,” she added, lest we miss the message.

But just when the Calbuzz Medical Team went on high alert, concerned that California’s junior senator might dislocate a limb, patting herself on the back, she suddenly encountered something she was afraid to take a stand on: the propositions on the May 19 ballot.

Questioned by John Wildermuth of the Chronicle at a press avail, Boxer took a total duck on the props, only the most controversial issue at the convention, insisting that she and Sen. Dianne Feinstein were about to launch a major investigation to plumb the depths and detail of Props. 1A-1F:

“I don’t know yet. I’m studying them. Sen. Feinstein and I were just talking about that. Our plate’s been so full we haven’t looked at it,” she said.

“Senator Feinstein and I decided we were going to work together on this, and we will have a statement coming on this,” she added with a straight face.

Scene: Exterior Hart Senate Building. Tracking shot moves in on and through a blue-curtained window to interior of well-appointed private United States Senate office.

Sen. Boxer (Sally Field) is stretched out on brown leather couch under an American flag comforter, wearing a house coat and twirling a lock of blonde hair with one finger, peering over Bulgari designer frames, lost in concentration reading the Ballot Handbook.

Sen. Feinstein (Cloris Leachman) is seated at FDR’s old desk, in flannel jammies and fluffy slippers, hair in curlers, tapping at a calculator as she checks columns of figures on a legal pad.

Boxer: “Dammit, Di, these ballot props are so complicated – this is our third all-nighter in a row. I hope we can work through them together in time to get a statement out before May 19.”

Feinstein: “Now Babs, unlike you, I’ve been a chief executive and I know what matters to the people of California is that we get it right, even if it is a few days after the election. You know, like my decision about whether to run for governor.”

Fade to black.

When Wildermuth’s Chronicle partner, Carla Marinucci, pressed Boxer about why she had no point of view on the props, Senator Standalone got downright huffy, explaining that she’s been Terribly Busy with Really Important Things, all, no doubt, of greater moment than a $40 billion bagatelle budget deficit for the state she represents:

“You may have noticed that we’ve been a little hectic and very involved in our work in Washington,” she snipped.

Well, excuuuuse us for bothering you. Sheesh. We’re just sayin’.

While Boxer could not abide taking a position on the props without Difi signing off, she showed no such reluctance on the issue of a truth commission about torture, an issue on which she and Feinstein have very different views.

“I believe in openness and democracy and the truth and getting the facts to the people,” Boxer said, explaining her support for an independent commission with subpoena power. “I also believe that this is something you can’t just walk away from. You can’t just suddenly say, when it’s inconvenient, you know we’re not going to pursue the law. You have to always follow the law.”

Boxer’s view aligns her with Senators Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Carl Levin, D-Mich., among others, and contrasts with that of Feinstein, who wants the whole messy torture inconvenience handled quietly by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which she chairs.

On Saturday, Boxer sidestepped when asked if she was happy with the way the Obama White House rolled out its position on whether to seek prosecution of Bush administration officials – with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel and Obama himself all expressive conflicting views.

“I don’t think there was any quote unquote good way to roll this out. This isn’t a good news story and a lot of times we feel ‘Oh my gosh we have to deal with this too,’ and I think there was some of that, so I’m not going to be critical,” she said.

“I just know that he’s doing the right thing to release these memos . . . and I hope he’ll come down on the side of an independent commission.”

Now, there’s a clarion call.

What It All Means: First Fight to Frame the Election

Monday, April 27th, 2009

gavin22Bottom line on the California Democratic Party convention: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made the biggest splash and showed off a slick campaign operation but Attorney General Jerry Brown proved anew that, even without a campaign apparatus, his political presence remains commanding.

Newsom’s well-delivered speech, ubiquitous team of volunteers, flashy street party and fireside chat for bloggers signaled to potential donors, activists and cognoscenti that his nascent campaign for governor is for real.

But his effort to frame the 2010 Democratic primary as a generational battle of future versus past – casting Brown as a “stroll down memory lane” – was far from convincing. Portraying Brown as the political status quo is like trying to paint Mick Jagger as musically obsolete.

For starters, Brown is still the smartest guy in the room, and trying to outflank him as the avatar of ideas, new or old, will be a tough sell among those who tend to vote in Democratic primaries.

While Newsom (a Hillary supporter, BTW) spent the weekend trying to position himself as Obama to Brown’s Clinton, General Jerry delivered a Jim Hightower-like jeremiad to the convention, filled with rips and roars at financial insiders and white collar criminals. In tone and substance it seemed closer to tapping the populist zeitgeist of these financially troubled times than did Newsom’s effort to fight the last war.

Voters fed up with Governor Arnold’s shattered promises to “blow up boxes” and sweep clean the mess in Sacramento may well be in the mood for less “change” and more common sense, which happens to be Brown’s political meme du jour.

Still, Brown was exposed, once again, as deficient in the organizational department. While Newsom already has a smooth, if expensive, functioning campaign machine, Brown HQ is still the Jerry & Anne Show, with the extraordinary energy and smarts of his wife providing what passes for his campaign structure.

In preparing to speak to the delegates, Newsom rehearsed his carefully crafted speech on a teleprompter. There was an actual text. Brown showed up with no text, no talking points, and having had no pre-game discussion with advisers about narratives or theme.

For us the most telling moment of the weekend came as we talked with Brown in the driveway of the old governor’s mansion in the cool, camellia-scented air of early Saturday evening. Surrounded by supporters, he was upbeat and feeling good about his speech, so good that he asked Calbuzz if we had a transcript, or at least a tape, of his convention address that he could borrow. (Note to Jerry: talk to John Burton – the party records these things).

Polls show Brown begins the race with a solid base of one-third of the Democratic vote, so he has plenty of time to assemble a campaign operation. But running for governor in 2010 will not be like he remembers it from 1974. Whether Brown will have the discipline and mindfulness to hire professionals and actually listen to them remains uncertain.

Newsom meanwhile has some stylistic problems of his own. He’s perilously close to turning his Twitter/Facebook/You Tube campaign into a kind of cyber-narcissism where the motto seems to be “Yes I Can.”

In his zeal to frame the race as future versus past he also runs the risk of sounding like he’s rallying the young to dump senior citizens on ice floes, in a primary where older voters vastly outnumber younger ones. During a Saturday meeting with bloggers, he started to walk back from that position when he said, “It’s not about young versus old. It’s about whether we’re going to move forward in a new direction or whether we’re going to look back. It’s not about attacking people. It’s about attacking the status quo.”

For Newsom, the weekend was as much a branding exercise as a campaign event. Because he’s still largely an unknown, and trails Brown 2-to-1, he did exactly what he needed to do by putting a strong personal stamp on the convention. At this point, the one thing most people know about him is the endlessly replayed “whether they like it or not” Mr. Smarty Pants moment, when he did an arrogant little touchdown dance in celebrating the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision.

At least twice at the convention, we heard him try to re-brand the phrase. “Whether they like it or not – my name’s Gavin Newsom, and I’m here to get things started,” he said in his speech opening. Calbuzz thinks he may be better off just letting it go lest the repetitions become a repeating reel in a future negative TV spot.

Still, whatever Newsom did or didn’t accomplish, it was a helluva’ lot better than what Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa did, namely reprise Billy Bob Thornton’s role in “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” No political professionals we talked to at the convention buy his consultant’s spin: he enjoys the luxury of waiting until late July to launch because the electorate will be 35 percent Latino, and he’ll win 90 percent of that.

Tony V’s mouthpiece did get off a good shot at Newsom – who has his own gnarly $438 million budget deficit in San Francisco – the day before the convention, sniping that his boss would not “Twitter while Rome burns.” But one line does not a campaign presence make. For Villaraigosa, the bottom line is that the convention was a flat-out missed opportunity, to recruit and fire up some troops, and to show he’s got the stuff of a governor in him.

In case you didn’t hear: In a major slap at their own legislative leaders, Democratic delegates on Sunday refused to endorse three of the six ballot measures on the May 19 special election ballot. The rejection of Prop. 1A from the left, when it’s already under attack from the Republican right-wing, does not portend well for the centerpiece of the Schwarzenegger-Democrat budget deal.