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Roll ‘Em and Tax ‘Em: What Gov Contenders Say About Legal Pot

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

One day after Gov. Schwarzenegger said it was high time for a debate about legalizing and taxing marijuana, Calbuzz rolled up our sleeves and set out to score the views of the candidates who want to succeed him.

The governor’s comment came as a new Field Poll showed that 56% of Californians support the notion of taxation with legalization for pot, an idea that Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco has proposed in AB390.

According to a February estimate by the Board of Equalization, legalizing pot could raise an estimated $1.34 billion annually in tax revenue, although there might be a concomitant decline in tax income from cigarettes and booze.

Arnold may not be in favor of legalized pot today, but he was filmed smoking a doobie in the 1977 film, “Pumping Iron.” “That is not a drug. It’s a leaf,” he told a British magazine in 2007.

Since the wannabe governors surely won’t have a joint press conference on the issue, we decided to hash out the differences among and between them by posing a simple question, without getting into the policy weeds of Ammiano’s 26-page bill:

Given the state’s fiscal challenges, would you as governor support increasing revenues by legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana for recreational use? Why or why not?

The answers ranged from Tom Campbell’s openness to the idea through Jerry Brown’s magisterial avoidance and Meg Whitman’s unadulterated “No Way, Mary J!” Here’s what they said:

Republicans

Tom Campbell: “I’m entirely open to getting a good, qualified and balanced report on this question. I’m not for legalizing on the basis of what I know now. However, I am for devoting scarce enforcement dollars to drugs like meth; and I have long favored allowing medical marijuana use. I have been critical of the use of federal resources to close down medical marijuana dispensaries that are legal in California.”

Meg Whitman: “I am absolutely, 100% not in favor of legalizing marijuana for any reason.” (What about to increase tax revenues?) “That is the last reason that one should think about legalizing marijuana.” (BTW: It was good to see Whitman answer the question at a brief press avail in San Francisco after our Calbuzz Rant yesterday. Our follow-up to Meg is this: By “any reason” do you mean you oppose the medicinal use of marijuana?)


Steve Poizner: “Like electing Jerry Brown as governor, the idea of legalizing drugs is one more bad idea from a bygone era. Nor can California smoke its way out of the structural budget deficit. The best way to increase state revenues is to grow the whole economy. Only those who are smoking something think tax increases will lead to economic growth.”

Democrats

Jerry Brown: “I’m not prepared to comment on it at this point. I’m not a gubernatorial candidate, No. 1, and as attorney general, I’m not prepared to comment.” As for a discussion of the fiscal merits, Brown added: “I wouldn’t limit myself to that topic. We need a wide ranging exploration of revenues, cuts, changes and reforms in government over the next decade.” [Doesn't sound like the state's top cop will be joining these guys anytime soon.]


Gavin Newsom: “I will always be a strong advocate for legalized medicinal uses of this substance, it’s something that I have fought for — and will continue to fight for as governor. But I do not believe that blanket legalization and taxation is a responsible way to balance the state’s budget.”

Antonio Villaraigosa: No response. Must be those damn emergency budget crisis meetings again. We did get this from one of Tony V’s consultants: “As you are well aware, Antonio is not currently a candidate for governor.” Okey doke, then.

BTW: A shout-out to our friend Carla Marinucci at the SF Chronicle, who managed to get a few questions in at Meg’s press avail yesterday.

Calbuzz Rant: eMeg Mutters More Malarkey

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

megcropCalbuzz watched eMeg Whitman — who’s been ducking serious questions from California political writers for months — being “interviewed” on Fox by Neil Cavuto a few hours ago. We waited to post in hopes we’d cool down, but we’re still fuming.

eMeg’s solution to California’s massive budget and spending crisis? Run government more like a business, create jobs and streamline government. Ah, c’mon. Like nobody’s ever peddled that pablum before.

“I’ve run large organizations,” Meg said. “I understand how to lead large organizations. I’ve balanced budgets. I’ve created jobs. As you know, 1.3 million people make their living selling on eBay,” she said. [Note eBay sellers: Meg claims she created your job.] She failed to note, however, as Saul Hansell did in the New York Times the other day, that “John Donahoe, her successor, has pretty much disassembled all of her major strategic moves.”

“We have to streamline government,” eMeg blathered. “Californians can no longer afford the government they have; we have got to give them the government they deserve and works for the people.” Poor Ted Sorenson must be gasping for breath.

This wasn’t an interview – it was a warm-up for an interview, where tepid, mushy platitudes slid by as “answers.” While eMeg was happy to cavort with Cavuto, she’s apparently terrified of the Bakersfield Californian – whose reporter she stiffed at the California Republican Assembly confab over the weekend. Since stumbling through a sit-down with Michael Finnegan of the L.A. Times the day after she announced back in February, she’s avoided every other serious news outlet in California. She’s ducking the Sacramento Press Club’s May 18 debate on the propositions. And Calbuzz is still waiting for our tete-a-tete with her Megness.

eMeg says it’s a “false choice” to have to pose cutting services versus raising taxes. Instead, she said, “We have to make government more efficient.” Aaaaarrgggggh. [Cut to Calbuzz tearing out what's left of our hair.]

NEWS ALERT HERE: eMeg did announce her support for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race. “I would support Mitt,” she said, noting that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin “did an admirable job with the job she was dropped into.”

As for how she’ll try to sell herself to the right-wing movementeers in the California Republican Party who think she’s a squishy liberal, eMeg argued for a return to “core principles” of the GOP.

“We can’t lead with the social issues. We’ve got to lead with our power-alley issues – which are not divisive, which everyone can buy into, and let’s lead with what we know most people want and it’s the tried and true formula for creating a strong economy, which allows you to do many other things.”

WTF was the answer? Is she speaking in eCode?

We’re just sayin.’

PS: Note to the City Sunnyvale – eMeg slandered the hell out of you: She said, when making her point about the need to streamline government, that when building a new building for PayPal it took 2 ½ years “to break ground” and required “three consultants to navigate the labyrinth of California regulations.” Could any of that be true? We await your reply.

Santa Barbara Burns Again: New Prop 1A Ad To Follow?

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

jesusita-fire112For the third time in less than a year, a major wildfire is burning in Santa Barbara – which could be propitious political timing for Gov. Schwarzenegger and his allies pushing Proposition 1A.

About 1,200 homes were evacuated Tuesday night, a few hours after the wind-whipped Jesusita fire broke out in the drought-dry tinder of the San Roque and Mission Canyon areas above the city.

The fire ignited just one day after the governor warned that as many as 1,700 Cal Fire firefighters could be laid off if voters don’t approve his Prop. 1A budget package at the May 19 special election. The governor and his allies have also used the threat of reduced fire protection in TV ads promoting the measure.

Calbuzz World Marketing Headquarters lies about three blocks outside the evacuation warning area, and we’re listening to air tankers and helicopters drop retardant and water on the fire zone now; we won’t be surprised if Arnold, who recently bought a $4.7 million, 25-acre spread in nearby Carpinteria, turns up in the next day or two to pose with firefighters – great up-to-the-minute stuff for his next ad.

BTW, the best real time local coverage of the fire is available online from our blogroll partners at Noozhawk and the Santa Barbara Independent (where we got the photo above.)

Campbell: Remap Issue Helps Him with GOP Voters

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

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Tom Campbell fears that Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democrats will damage the Republican brand. But he still believes California GOP voters may choose him as their candidate for governor for pragmatic political reasons.

The moderate Campbell, in an email exchange with Calbuzz, said that while Republicans nationally are moving increasingly to the right, he could “unify” the state GOP in the same way Pete Wilson did in 1990, around the issue of congressional redistricting.

“The best evidence” that a moderate can win the Republican primary, he said, “is Pete Wilson’s being embraced by the social conservatives when he ran for governor in 1990.” (Of course, Wilson was already in the U.S. Senate and state party brahmins were desperate for a slam-dunk candidate to follow George Deukmejian.)

Although Proposition 11, which was passed last November, handed to an independent commission the once-a-decade job of redrawing Assembly, state Senate and Board of Equalization districts, the power to draw new maps for House seats remained in the hands of the the Legislature and governor.

Campbell thinks that despite his conflicts with the Republican right-wing over social issues – as well as his current support of Proposition 1A on the May 19 special election ballot – he is positioned to make an electability argument in the primary against Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner.

“The new governor will preside over the congressional redistricting,” he told us. “That is a huge issue to all Republicans, and was a large factor in Pete’s ability to unite the party behind his gubernatorial candidacy in 1990 (it included the Legislature too, then).”

Campbell cited his own congressional service as evidence of the importance of having a Republican governor. In 1988 he was elected to the first of two terms in the 12th congressional district seat in Silicon Valley; after giving up the seat to run unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 1992, he won a special election for the 15th congressional district, when incumbent Norm Mineta took a cabinet post with the Clinton Administration.

“I was first elected under the gerrymandered map from 1980, Jerry Brown was the governor, the Legislature was Democratic-controlled, and I recall being one of 21 Republicans, with 31 Democrats, in the California Congressional delegation (Please forgive me if that’s not perfect, I’m doing this from recall),” he said. “When I was elected in the (Mineta) special in 1995, it was in a district drawn by the California Supreme Court, because Gov. Wilson had vetoed the Democratic Legislature’s map, and I recall making the delegation an even 27-27 split.

“That shows the difference fair district lines can make; and the importance of having a Republican Governor,” he added. “That won’t be lost on the GOP rank and file.”

But Campbell also acknowledged that Specter’s party switch symbolizes a troubling trend for Republicans nationally, as the dominance of the party’s right-wing makes moderates increasingly uncomfortable.

“The more that moderates leave the party, obviously, the less centrist it becomes. Most Americans, and Californians, seek solutions in the center. So the Republican label becomes less attractive. We can safely assume that Democratic candidates will try to say all Republicans are extremists.”

But that doesn’t mean Campbell sees himself as a switch hitter.

“I don’t see a change of parties in my future, “Campbell said. “I don’t think any candidate ever fits perfectly in any party, but in my case the fit with the Republican Party is much closer than it would be with the Democratic Party.”

You gotta admire Campbell’s persistent search a positive angle and he may be right that in a general election for governor he’d be a strong contender against any of the Democrats now lined up. But Calbuzz is far from persuaded that GOP primary voters will set aside their differences with Campbell on abortion, gay rights and Proposition 1A, to vote in favor of electability.

Why Rich Guys Don’t Win Top Offices in California

Monday, May 4th, 2009

poiznerAs the 2010 field for governor takes shape, the top Republican contenders are a pair of successful former Silicon Valley businesspeople, each armed for the campaign with a self-made fortune.

megcropBoth Meg Whitman, who scored big at eBay, and Steve Poizner, who made his pile as a high-tech innovator, begin the race with the wherewithal to spend whatever it takes to win. If past is prologue, however, Whitman and Poizner will both end up political losers.

Pity the poor billionaire seeking high office in California : Not once in modern political history has a self-financed candidate captured a top-of-ticket party nomination and gone on to be elected governor or U.S. senator in the state.

This historic trend again marks California as a great exception, in contrast to states like New Jersey and Texas , where multimillionaires routinely prevail.
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Industrialist Norton Simon set the bar low for wealthy candidates in California when he tried and failed to oust Senator George Murphy in the 1970 GOP primary. Liberal shipping magnate William Matson Roth kept the losing streak intact when he lost the 1974 Democratic gubernatorial primary to a guy named Jerry Brown.

Since then, three wealthy businessmen who would be governor – Al Checchi (1998) Bill Simon (2002) and Steve Westly (2006) spent big but finished out of the money. So did Michael Huffington, who spent $100 million in losing to Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 1994, and Darrell Issa, who forked out millions of his car alarm fortune to stumble in the 1998 GOP Senate primary.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only self-funded candidate who’s made it to a top slot. However, he short-circuited the odds by avoiding a primary, where the Republican right wing would have battered him, to capture the governorship in the anomalous 2003 recall (funded largely by Issa) of Gray Davis.

“The problem is that there’s an innate suspicion about people running without a history in politics,” said Bill Carrick, a California-based political strategist who crafted Feinstein’s 1994 campaign defense against Huffington’s millions.

It is instructive that Feinstein prevailed with a bit of political ju-jitsu, transforming Huffington’s limitless resources from an asset into a liability, with TV attack ads that labeled him “a Texas oilman Californians just can’t trust.”

“There’s a group of voters who find the outsider, business candidate attractive,” Carrick said. “They’re white men over 50, with anti-establishment political views, who don’t like the status quo. But it never gets beyond that universe.”

Garry South, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s chief strategist — who helped Davis defeat former Northwest Airlines CEO Checchi in the 1998 primary, and Republican financier Simon in the 2002 general election — cited several reasons for the failure of Golden State silver spoon candidates.

“They have too much money,” South said, noting that without normal budget constraints, rich candidates often fail to develop a coherent message or target it to voters. Checchi’s consultants, for example, produced a staggering 102 TV spots in 1998, airing 42 of them. Said South: “They think they can say everything about themselves to everybody.”

Unlike professional politicians, wealthy rookies lack a group of seasoned advisers, “so they go out and hire everybody in the Western Hemisphere and wind up with a big bloated campaign team with no real chain of command,” South said, adding that successful executives often underestimate the difficulty of running for office.

“They think because they’re successful in business, they’re smarter, better and more clever than anybody in politics,” he said. “They honestly don’t get that the things that they’re most proud of in their business life don’t compute in the political world.”

But Republican consultant Rob Stutzman, who works for Whitman, the richest of the current candidate crop, argued that as political reforms have squeezed contribution limits, individual wealth is almost a prerequisite for running in California .

“You have to have self-funding in order to run credibly statewide,” he said. “You can’t raise enough money at a fast enough clip to compete.”

Whitman strategists emphasize that she (like her rival, Insurance Commissioner Poizner) is aggressively raising money to supplement self-donations.

“Meg believes there have to be investors in the message and the mission,” said spokesman Mitch Zak, predicting that she will raise $5 million in outside contributions to go with $4 million she’s kicked in herself, by summer.

Although a third wealthy candidate – Guess Jeans co-founder Georges Marciano – plans to run as an independent, polltaker Mervin Field foresees that the economic meltdown will create a daunting political climate for rich candidates of every stripe.

“The state is in one hell of a mess,” Field said. “I believe voters will be looking for someone with a different resume.”

This article is also scheduled for publication in the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday, May 4.