Archive for 2010



Sabado Gigante! Jerry Smacks Meg in Fresno Brawl

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

In the very first seconds of the Univision debate with Jerry Brown in Fresno on Saturday, Meg Whitman clearly defined the political stakes:

“The Latino vote is incredibly important to this election,” she said. “I cannot win the governor’s race without the Latino vote.”

It cannot be known until the November election, of course, whether eMeg’s debate performance succeeded in helping to make her candidacy a serious option for Hispanic voters. The early returns in the Calbuzz Why Wait for the Voters Electoral Count, however, show decisively that she didn’t get the job done.

After three days of stories filled with charges about her callous treatment of an undocumented Mexican native who worked in her home for nine years, Whitman’s challenge in the historic, broadcast-in-Spanish debate was to demonstrate that she can connect with the hopes and aspirations of Latinos.

Whitman gave solid, conservative answers on most of the issues. But, despite her own opening statement about the crucial importance of this voting bloc (which we think she overstates), she said almost nothing to suggest to Latinos that she would be there for them any more than she was for Nicky Diaz, whom she booted to the curb when she learned her housekeeper was an illegal immigrant.

“Why did you not show compassion for this longtime employee?” asked the  moderator, Univision’s Maria Elena Salinas, setting the stage for the money moments of the debate, which will probably be replayed, oh, no more than  12 or 13 million times between now and November 2. [Here's the clip]

“This is a very sad situation,” Whitman replied, first describing her own hurt feelings because Diaz in her recent press conference called her “Ms. Whitman” and not “Meg” as she had for all those years.

“The real tragedy here is Nicky,” she added. “After Nov. 2, no one’s going to be watching out for Nicky Diaz.”

Then she turned directly to Brown and (to the astonishment and delight of Camp Krusty) attacked:

“Jerry, you know you should be ashamed. You and your surrogates put her deportation at risk. You put her out there. You should be ashamed for sacrificing Nicky Diaz at the altar of your political ambitions.”

In that instant, Calbuzz had a deeply profound thought: OMG!!

For reasons that remain unclear, eMeg used her spotlight moment to point a finger of blame at Brown, with absolutely no evidence, for exposing her hiring and long-term employment of an undocumented housekeeper, Which  big-brain  adviser thought that was a good idea? Perhaps the same one who suggested she not mention the matter back in June 2009, when she could have disposed of the issue with a couple of page 8 stories, if that.

When he had a chance to respond a moment later, Brown, whose greatest strength as a debater is the counter-punch, denied he had anything to do with the Diaz affair and let fly.

“Don’t run for governor if you can’t stand up on your own two feet and say, ‘Hey I made a mistake, I’m sorry, let’s go on from here…

“You have blamed her, blamed me, blamed the left, blamed the unions but you don’t take accountability. You can’t be a leader unless you’re willing to stand on your own two feet and say, ‘yup, I made a mistake and I’m going on from here.’”

Ouch.

Things seemed to go from bad to worse for eMeg after that. In an exchange likely to resonate with Latino parents, she defended her proposal to ban illegal immigrants from California higher ed institutions in answering a question from a young woman who said she was an honors student  at Fresno State University:

“Here is the challenge we face: Our resources are scarce. We are in terrible economic times and slots have been eliminated at the California State University system—I think they’re down by 40,000 students. Same is true at the … the University of California system. Programs have been cut, and California citizens have been denied admission to these universities and I don’t think it’s fair to bar and eliminate the ability of California citizens to attend higher universities and favor undocumenteds.”

“Undocumenteds”? Really? And was she really arguing that this bright young Latina was hogging a place that some deserving white kid should have had?

Brown, who was very aggressive throughout, jumped on that answer as well. He said he would sign legislation, known as the state Dream Act, to make it  easier for illegal immigrants to obtain financial aid from California’s public universities and colleges – a bill Gov. Schwarzenegger recently vetoed.

“Ms. Whitman goes beyond opposing the Dream Act. She wants to kick you out of the school because you are not documented, and that is wrong—morally and humanly.”

We wondered why he didn’t mention that former Gov. Pete Wilson is chairman of her campaign. At least she didn’t suggest she’d round ‘em all up and deport them. Or did she?

“Illegal immigration is just that, it is illegal,” she said. “And we need to make sure we have the workers that the economy needs to grow and thrive,” Whitman said. “We live in a rule of law. There is a judicial process, and we have to abide by that. So I think the best thing that I can do to help the Latino community in California is as first and foremost, as I said, jobs.”

Brown countered that it’s wrong to bring workers in to fill labor shortages and then herd them home.

“This is about human beings. And you don’t bring in temporary workers and then when you’ve used them up, you send them back. … You don’t just bring in semi-serfs and say, ‘Do our dirty work,’ and then we’re finished with you like an orange and just throw it away. That’s after you’ve squeezed it. That’s not right.”

On “path to citizenship” alone, Whitman dug in against a position that 90% of Latinos (and Brown) support.

And it was notable that when Meg later accused Jerry of not being “accountable” for Oakland schools when he was mayor of that city, there was a low, rippling laugh throughout the audience, whose members had been admonished not to say anything.

The Univision alleged simulcast translation into English was so poorly engineered, there won’t likely be too many TV clips in English. But in Spanish, watch out. Latinos who had been flirting with Whitman are likely, Calbuzz thinks, to default to the guy who marched with Cesar Chavez and dated Linda Rondstadt.

We can hear the conversation around the kitchen table: “Maybe he’s un poco loco, but at least he doesn’t accuse the help of stealing the mail.”

A couple of other key points:

Water - Whitman had her best moments when she and Brown were asked about their plans for increasing state water deliveries, a crucial issue for Central Valley residents.

She strongly endorsed the $11 billion water bond measure that the governor and Legislature agreed on last year, but which they removed from the ballot because they feared recession-weary voters would defeat it; although she criticized some “pork” she said was in the measure, she showed a good grasp of the issue and sympathy for the economic hardships of the valley.

By contrast, Brown offered a head-scratching answer about how Kern County was to blame for the defeat of a 1982 Peripheral Canal initiative plan he had sponsored. Brown was historically and politically accurate: the giant Kern County agribusiness conglomerates J.G. Boswell and Salyer Land Co. helped defeat the canal plan by financing the opposition to it, in a strange bedfellow alliance with environmentalists that was driven by their own, narrow economic interests. But it wasn’t much of an answer for the 99% of the viewers who neglected to brush up on the history of California water politics before the debate.

Taxes - Brown repeatedly hammered Whitman for her support of repealing the state capital gains tax. As he did in the UC Davis debate earlier in the week, he not only called it a gift for “billionaires and millionaires” but also criticized it as a budget-buster, saying it would increase the state’s deficit by $5 billion.

Whitman responded  again by characterizing the capital gains tax as a job-killing obstacle to business development, but after days of being hunkered down in crisis mode, bludgeoned by the controversy over her former housekeeper, eMeg’s answers lacked the spirit and spark they had in her previous encounter with Brown.

AP has a good round-up of other issues here.

Bottom line: Whitman took a huge risk in turning on Brown and attacking him – without a shred of evidence – for being behind the Nicky Diaz story. He staggered her with his roundhouse right response and, although she rallied a little in the debate’s final moments, she never really recovered.   Looking tired and drawn, she mostly seemed to be going through the motions. A clear victory for Brown.

PS — Our video reporter, intern Jennifer Fey, trekked to Fresno and offered this nifty take from a student’s point of view.

Jerry’s New Ads; Meyer on Meg; R = eMeg Squared

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

With Team Whitman furiously trying to spin away the story about Meg Whitman’s undocumented housekeeper and both sides preparing for today’s Univision debate in Fresno, Jerry Brown unloaded two new ads designed to keep Whitman on defense.

One is a positive saying Brown balanced budgets without raising taxes and took on Wall Street banks, mortgage scammers and public officials. “Knowledge and know-how that works for you” is the slogan — a subtle suggestion that he has it and she doesn’t.

The negative ad is far more compelling, saying the “real Meg Whitman” was caught reaping millions for insider stock deals when she was on the board of Goldman Sachs, using the words “conflict of interest” and “corrupt,” charging that she paid herself $120 million while laying off 10% of eBay’s workforce, and asking, “Shouldn’t character matter?”

As Calbuzz noted Friday, demonstrating character is exactly Whitman’s challenge, after it was revealed she had employed an illegal immigrant in her home for years — knowingly or not — before she started talking tough about cracking down on them. And with his pals in the SEIU on the air with an ad speaking to that issue, Brown attacked Whitman as a greedy Wall Street predator.

Whitman’s response was fast and furious. Said spokesperson Andrea Jones Rivera:

“This ad is an outright lie. Meg’s salary was under a million dollars and it was approved by the eBay board of directors.* After swearing that voters would ‘always get the truth’, Jerry Brown has abandoned his promise in favor of a smear campaign that intentionally distorts the truth. In the ad, Jerry Brown goes so far as to cynically attack Meg’s brief service on the Goldman Sachs board, despite the fact that Brown’s own sister is currently a high ranking executive at Goldman Sachs. The truth is Meg Whitman was rated one of the top bosses and CEOs for her time at eBay and we will put her business record up against Jerry’s 40 year political career anytime.”

Meanwhile, Whitman continues to pummel Brown as a tax-and-spend liberal who opposed Proposition 13 and drove up unemployment and the state deficit. Surely that’s why Brown argues himself in his positive ad: “As Governor, I’ll cap government salaries and pensions. On the budget – we have to face reality. Make do with what we have, and no taxes without voter approval.”

Polling suggests voters appreciate Whitman’s business background but they aren’t sure they like her or that she’s got the skills and experience (“knowledge and know-how”) to command California government. On the other hand, they know Brown has what it takes to be governor and they like him pretty much; they’re just not sure they can trust him not to pick their pocket.

Although jobs, budgets, environment, water, education and public safety are kinds of issues governors actually must confront, the curbside political world is wondering today how eMeg’s housekeeper issue will come up in the Univision debate — with an expected audience of millions of Latinos — and what Whitman and Brown will say about it.

No doubt, Whitman would like to be asked why, after hammering on the issue of illegal immigration, did she not report Nicky Diaz to the authorities after learning that she was here without documentation. That way she can come across as sympathetic (although she has to be careful not to sound too condescending).

She likely would not like to be asked why she didn’t use a teensy weensy portion of her vast wealth to hire Diaz an immigration attorney or whether she actually said, “You never have seen me and I have never seen you,” as Diaz recounts the conversation. (Of course, denying it is calling Nicky a liar, so that’s tricky, too.)

Brown, the betting suggests, will keep his trap shut and let Whitman stew in her own juices unless Meg charges to his face that he was behind the whole episode. At which point, it’s hard to predict. He could cooly note that it was not he who hired an illegal immigrant to work in her house.  Or he could fire back at how outraged he is to be accused of the “politics of personal destruction.” We’ll know soon enough.

* Thank you Steve Harmon for this reportorial note: “Salaries are rarely the true measure of a CEO’s net worth in their rarified world of dividends, stocks and bonuses. Forbes Magazine, in September, 2008, and the New York Times, reported that Whitman received a $120.4 million, in salary, bonus and the value of her excercised options in her final year, despite eBay’s stock plummeting 49 percent.”

Meyer Carefully Evaluates Meg’s Skills

The slashing pen of Tom Meyer, world renowned editorial cartoonist and dressed-to-the-nines Calbuzzer extraordinaire today examines the deeper political implications of eMeg’s using the famous phrase, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” multiple times during her Tuesday night debate with Jerry Brown.

Us, we’re still wondering why Her Megness used the aphorism over and over and kept expecting a different result; like, maybe somebody might actually laugh when she repeated it, oh say, the 13th or 14th time. Must be that exquisite sense of comic timing she has to go with her wonderful ability to laugh at herself and her highly-developed sense of self-awareness.

All that aside, a wide-ranging Calbuzz investigation of more than 10 minutes worth of Googling reveals that there is not a single shred of citable evidence to support her attribution of the quote to Albert Einstein (not a big week for Meg and documentary evidence). There is , in fact, a considerable debate around the internets about the original source, with the current conventional wisdom crediting Rita Mae Brown, who actually did write it down in a book once. You could look it up.

And speaking of misusing hoary phrases: Calbuzz was appalled this week by the widespread misuse of the phrase “October surprise” to describe the bombshell news about Whitman’s housekeeper, which Gloria Allred dropped on the candidate’s head on Wednesday morning.

In his essential “Political Dictionary,” the late great William Safire traced the phrase back to the 1980 presidential election, when then Republican vice presidential candidate George Bush the Elder warned that President Jimmy Carter “is a politically tough fellow, he’ll do anything to get reelected, and let’s be prepared for some October surprise.”

Of course, it turned out that the surprise was on Carter, as the Iran hostage crisis that had bedeviled him for much of his term was instantly resolved when the Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the release of the hostages shortly after Mr. Jimmy lost to Ronald Reagan. Safire continues:

By 1991, the noun phrase was being applied to any controversial or unpleasant event in October. (emphasis ours)

Let’s be blunt: The Allred-Nicky Diaz press conference triggering the Meg and the Maid drama took place on Wednesday, September 29; while it might qualify as a “September Shocker,” it most definitely was not an “October Surprise.”

And while we’re at it:  Let’s make it perfectly clear that eMeg’s big laugh line at the debate – making Jerry governor is like “putting Dracula in charge of a  blood bank” – is a total rip off from none other than…Jane Fonda. Hanoi Jane used the line in whacking Carter for his appointment of James Schlesinger as Energy Secretary about the same time that October became so surprising:

“Putting Schlesinger in charge of nuclear power is like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank,” Jane Fonda orated to the cheering demonstrators at the foot of the Capitol steps.

Mega-kudos and H/T for that catch to Calbuzzer Debra Hall who, besides being brilliant, eagle-eyed and ever-alert, also has the buffest arms of any marketing consultant in California.

Polly Wolly Doodle: Our old friend Steve Lopez of the LA Times has cleverly lined up a polygraph expert, LA PI John Grogan, to give eMeg a polygraph test on whether she ever knew about that letter from the Social Security Administration. After saying she’d be glad to take a lie detector test, Meg backtracked and said she’d do it only if Jerry and Nicky would, too. But what the heck, Meg — this could be a great moment in gubernatorial leadership. All expenses paid!

Character Question: Meg, Nicky & the Smoking Letter

Friday, October 1st, 2010

After 19 months of mass market campaigning inside the most luxurious  cocoon money could buy, Meg Whitman on Thursday suddenly found herself in the political free-fire zone.

For a second straight day, Whitman flailed away in unfamiliar territory, far from her comfort zone of  message discipline and robotic recitations of talking points, as she and her army of high-priced purse-carriers desperately sought to spin and control a campaign crisis that kept spiraling out of control.

The meltdown was fueled by the undeniable facts that for nine years the privileged Republican candidate for governor employed an illegal alien as a housekeeper, and that this undocumented worker now was accusing her of having “treated me like garbage.”

“This has nothing to do with my character,” Whitman insisted to reporters at one point during a truly bizarre day in the campaign.

In fact, the white-hot controversy has everything to do with character, providing, for one of the few times in the race, a public test of her credibility, performance under pressure and ability to take responsibility and hold herself accountable for her own actions and decisions.

Alas, it is not a test she is passing with flying colors.

Calbuzz has noted several times before (here and here, for example) that Whitman has only a casual regard for the actual facts, relying instead on the Power of Money to shape the “truth” to fit her needs.

But here was a case of the billionaire prevaricator being exposed by a lowly Latina housekeeper who says she was told, after nine years of cleaning toilets: “You never have seen me and I have never seen you.”

A brief recap: In an extraordinary day in California politics, Whitman’s campaign convened a morning press conference in Santa Monica, to try to soothe a state press corps in full bay, and to put to rest the heated dispute over the candidate’s long-term employment relationship with Nicky Diaz, her 31-year old former housekeeper.

For nearly an hour, Whitman answered questions by insisting she had done “absolutely” nothing wrong.

Constantly flashing a broad grin that seemed in its affect strangely out-of-sync with her words, she variously blamed, with the scantest of circumstantial evidence, Diaz and her attorney, Gloria Allred, public employee unions and Jerry Brown, the Democratic nominee for governor, for concocting a mysterious  conspiracy to “smear” her and to derail her campaign.

In her remarks to reporters, Whitman also stated categorically that she and her husband, Dr. Griffith Harsh, had never received or seen a purported 2003 “no-match” letter from the government that raised questions about Diaz’s Social Security number, a document which might have alerted them to the fact that their Mexican-born employee was not legally in the U.S. (She even offered, in response to a silly question, to take a lie detector test — a pledge she later conditioned on Jerry Brown taking one too. Right.)

Diaz had said, at a tearful press conference one day earlier, that Whitman’s husband had given her this letter with instructions to “deal with this.” But the candidate on Thursday expressed absolute certainty that she and her neurosurgeon husband knew nothing about any such document – “they may have sent something, but we never saw it” – and charged that Diaz might have stolen the letter from the mailbox and was now being “manipulated” to participate in the “politics of personal destruction” by the Allred-Brown-Jimmy Hoffa Cabal.

“All the allegations are completely untrue’’ she said. “The Brown campaign and Gloria Allred are doing a massive smear campaign on me and my family.”

Less than an hour later, however, the famously obnoxious celeb lawyer Allred aggressively smacked down Whitman with what she called “the smoking letter,” an official government missive raising questions about Diaz’s Social Security documentation. It was sent by the SSA, dated April 2003, and addressed to eMeg and her husband; for good measure, it also had a handwritten note on the bottom, in what Diaz said was Dr. Harsh’s handwriting, instructing her to “check on this.” Said Allred:

Meg Whitman is exposed as a liar and a hypocrite. She should now apologize to the press, the public and Nicky…Meg Whitman should be ashamed and embarrassed.

Soon after, the strange day took another strange turn, when Whitman strategists again summoned reporters, this time onto a conference call in which they tried to explain away Allred’s evidence.

eMeg handler Rob Stutzman, who would neither confirm nor deny the handwriting was Dr. Harsh’s said:

What we have here is a letter that is seven years old. If this letter is authentic, Dr. Harsh very reasonably does not recall ever seeing it. And also, has the very reasonable and likely conclusion that if the letter is authentic, his frame of mind was completely focused on making sure that Nicky appropriately was going to receive her Social Security credit and therefore her benefit some day. Which makes sense, if that was the case, that he would leave a note, making sure she saw it and at some point would return it.

Well, that makes everything perfectly clear.

Pathetic lies: Far from putting the matter to rest, the shaky, if not panicked, daylong performance by the candidate and Team Whitman  further undercut eMeg’s credibility, as she made a series of formless and unsubstantiated accusations in an effort to deflect attention from her own actions:

Nicky stole the mail. On Wednesday, the Chron’s Joe Garofoli asked eMeg this question:

Did you ever receive any notification from the Social Security Administration or any other government agency that the number this housekeeper had provided did not match the name or that there was any other discrepancy with the papers that had been filed?

Whitman answered flatly: “No.”

At Thursday’s press conference, she shifted gears, now admitting the possible existence of such a letter, but suggesting that if was sent, Diaz probably stole it from the mail.

She may have intercepted the letter, it’s very possible, I have no other explanation…Nicky did bring in the mail and sort the mail. If she got a letter two weeks before alerting her to a problem and saying we’re going to alert your employer she might have been on the lookout for that letter….. It pains me to say that because, gosh, that’s not the Nicky I knew.

Gosh, it sure isn’t.

(BTW, Griff stood by Meg’s side when she was denying ever having received a letter from the Social Security Administration and did not say, “Oh wait, honey, I forgot to tell you. Nicky didn’t swipe that letter, I read it, filled it out part way and wrote her a little note on it.”)

Despite Whitman’s defamatory comments about Diaz, whose version of events was confirmed by the document produced by Allred, Stutzman gruffly insisted there will be no apology from eMeg for having slimed her former employee.

No… Nicky has willingly allowed herself to be used…It’s unfortunate…But make no mistake: Nicky is participating in something that is 100% political and it is 100% designed to harm Meg’s ability to succeed in this campaign .

Nicky Diaz, POW: Whitman said repeatedly that Diaz “doesn’t know what she’s gotten herself into,” and is being “manipulated” by Allred, who’s allegedly feeding her false things to say. (Does Whitman really think her former housekeeper, part of her “extended family,”  is that stupid and porous?)

At one point during her press conference, Meg rather astonishingly said: “I think Nicky had a gun to her head.”

No word yet on what kind of gun or who’s holding it.

Meanwhile, here’s an alternative explanation: Diaz felt like she got royally screwed by Meg Whitman and the good doctor and figured she had some wages and expenses coming to her. (She was, after all, paid at a rate of $17,940 a year compared to the $20,770 per month that eMeg pays campaign consultant Mike Murphy.) So maybe she just decided to get herself a bad-ass lawyer to help her get what she thinks she’s owed.

Of all the nerve.

It’s all Jerry Brown’s fault:   “I absolutely believe this is linked to the Brown campaign, 100%,” Meg said at her press conference. Not 98%, mind you, One Hundred Percent.

Former state Democratic party chairman Bill Press recapped her argument on MSNBC last night this way (we’re paraphrasing here):

Meg Whitman employed an illegal immigrant for nine years.
When she found out, she fired her.
And whose fault is this? Jerry Brown’s.

We didn’t hire an undocumented immigrant to work in our house,” chimed in Brown flack Sterling Clifford, who figures prominently in the Whitman camp’s evidence for their magic bullet theory.

Part of the proof  of the evil plot that Team Whitman pointed to was a Spanish-language TV ad titled “Nueve Años,” whipped up and released Thursday as part of a $5 million campaign by the Service Employees International Union. The ad says, in part: “Whitman attacks undocumented workers to win votes, but an undocumented woman worked in her home for nine years . . .   Whitman says one thing in Spanish, something different in English.  The real Meg Whitman has no shame. She’s (tiene dos caras) a two-faced woman.”

Meg’s people also fingered a Wednesday night report on KTVU-TV, in which political reporter Randy Shandobil recounted a conversation he had with Clifford a couple of weeks ago, during which the spokesman told Randy that he’d heard Whitman had a “housekeeper problem” (his words, not Clifford’s). Shandobil acknowledged that Clifford was “just passing along rumors.”

We’re shocked – shocked! – that a campaign operative was actually gossiping with a political reporter.

Psst, here’s more breaking news: Calbuzz hereby admits that we sometimes talk off the record with campaign hacks and that they sometimes tell us about rumors they’ve heard that they think we should check out.

Truth be told, Calbuzz has actually done this with operatives from the Whitman campaign! We name no names. (And, unlike some, burn no sources.)

BTW, Calbuzz asked Stutzman on the conference call, even if Jerry Brown was behind exposing eMeg’s employment of an illegal housekeeper, what difference would that make?

“What difference it makes is that this entire stunt, in the way it’s been drawn out particularly over the last couple of days, is completely designed to influence a political race,” Stutzman replied.

Asked Calbuzz: “What’s wrong with that? This is a political race.”

We didn’t get a real answer before we were cut off.

Documents, what documents? Whitman points to the driver’s license and Social Security card that Diaz presented when she first went to work for her and her husband back in 2000 as evidence that they had assurances Nicki was legal, even though they were being taken in by her.

To prove the point, they released a copy of an I-9 immigration service form that Diaz had signed swearing that she was legally in the country and authorized to work. The same form contains a line for the employer to sign, swearing that she has checked out the employee’s documents and believes everything is on the up and up.

However, neither Meg nor Dr. Harsh signed Diaz’s I-9 attesting to this.

When Whitman was questioned about her failure to sign on Thursday, she said: “I don’t know whether we signed it or not.”

Memo to Meg: you’re the one who put out the document, girlfriend, go have yourself a read.

We always play by the rules: In describing her views on hiring household help, Whitman told reporters that she always insisted that they be legal.

A few minutes later, however, Whitman admitted that when Diaz went on maternity leave for three months, she was replaced by one of the housekeeper’s friends, adding that she didn’t know whether or not the second woman was legal and could not recall whether or not she made an effort to find out.

Claiming she would only hire “someone who was 100% legal,” Meg assured reporters that, “Griff and I play by the rules.”

Except when we don’t.

Why Meg v Maid Saga Is a Big Deal: The Latino Vote

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

The latest dramatic chapter of the governor’s race, torn from the pages of eMeg’s Secret Diary, finds the campaign of one of the richest women in California threatened by the comments of one of the poorest.

Finally, a political story TV can understand.

For Republican Meg Whitman, who employed an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper and nanny for nine years, the revelations on Wednesday by Nicky Diaz Santillan and her attorney, Gloria Allred, not only raise legal questions of what eMeg knew and when she knew it, but also serious political ones about her personal integrity, not to mention her efforts to court the state’s crucial bloc of Latino voters.

Team Whitman responded swiftly when word broke on TMZ that Allred had called a press conference with “explosive” allegations by the candidate’s former maid. Strategists did their best to a) preempt the presser by sliming Allred, one of L.A.’s most notorious celebrity lawyers and b) argue through the media about social security cards, employment applications and a host of other documents that they insisted prove conclusively that eMeg is pure as the driven snow in the matter.

At the end of the day, despite her team’s yeomen efforts at damage control, Whitman had been knocked way off message and was entangled in a gnarly web of charges and counter-charges, caught in the worst position for any political candidate: defensively explaining herself.

As a political matter, the most significant impact of the flap on the campaign will come, in still-undetermined magnitude, in Whitman’s multi-million dollar effort to take enough Latino votes away from Democrat Jerry Brown to help push her over the top on November 2.

With Whitman and Brown preparing to debate in Fresno Saturday, an event co-sponsored by Univision and set to be broadcast in Spanish and English, Democratic strategists organizing Latino voter registration and GOTV efforts were privately pleased over the expected political effect of the disclosures made by Allred and Diaz, eMeg’s former employee.

Calbuzz hears that a coalition of labor and Democratic organizations is planning a major demonstration in Fresno on Saturday and expects the Diaz matter to add considerable enthusiasm and profile to that effort:  “We’re going to dominate the scene,” said one strategist.

“It’s possible for her to win the 15 percent of the Latino vote that is Republican,” the source added with a smile, “although she’s now putting that in jeopardy.”

Coming one day after the first televised debate between Whitman and Brown, the surprising turn of events proved anew that 24 hours is a lifetime in politics. Here is a look at the key issues in the controversy.

The facts: There is no disagreement that Diaz was undocumented during the nine years she worked for Whitman, from spring of 2000 to late June, 2009: the key question is when did eMeg find out about it.

Meg says she was clueless about Nicky’s immigration status until her housekeeper informed her last year, on or about June 20 and she fired her June 29. That was some four months after Whitman had announced her candidacy for governor. (Diaz says [@1:25] she spoke with Whitman and Dr. Harsh on June 20. Harsh was furious and said, “I told you she was going to bring us trouble.” And on June 24, in a phone call, Whitman told her she could not help her with immigration.)

The maid says Meg had to know before 2009 that there was a problem. Among other things, Diaz and Allred said, the Whitmans received a letter from the Social Security Administration dated April 22, 2003 informing them that there was a discrepancy with the Social Security number Nicki had provided to the employment agency that sent her to eMeg; Diaz also alleges that several similar letters came later from Social Security but that the Whitmans threw them in the trash, where she saw them.

Whitman insists there was no such letter; Allred hinted broadly at her press conference that she has a copy but was not prepared to release it yet. Production of the document would put the lie to Whitman’s statement; Allred’s failure to produce it would be exculpatory for eMeg.

Another key issue on the documents released by the Whitman campaign in its effort to show that she is blameless in the matter: Neither the W-4 tax return nor the I-9 Immigration and Naturalization Service form [click on View Docs for the pdfs] for Diaz in 2000 was signed by either Whitman or her husband, in the line designated for employers.  The I-9 requires employers to sign the following statement:

I attest, under penalty of perjury,  that I have examined the document(s) presented by the above named employee, that the above-listed document(s) appear to be genuine and to relate to the employee named, that the employee began employment on (month/day/year) and that to the best of my knowledge the employee is eligible to work in the United States.

The problem for Meg: in written and direct statements by her and the campaign Wednesday, she said she relied on the social security card and drivers license that Diaz presented to confirm that she was in the country legally.

Why, then, didn’t Meg sign the statement affirming that belief? The Whitman campaign did not return calls seeking comment.

The optics: The video of Diaz sobbing and describing how she says she was treated badly by eMeg, shot in Allred’s office at the press conference, is very powerful stuff.

Whether you believe that Whitman knew for years that Diaz was illegal, or that she simply fired her as soon as she found out, it’s not hard to imagine clips of the emotional words and images of the domestic worker turning up in an independent expenditure committee ad for Brown (Diaz later repeated her statement in Spanish).

Recounting her recollection of the conversation in which Whitman fired her, the woman said:

“From now on you don’t know me, and I don’t know you. You never have seen me and I have never seen you. Do you understand me? . . . and she hang me up . . . She was throwing me away like a piece of garbage . . . She treat me as if I was not a human being.”

In her own brief comments to reporters, recorded by the Chronicle’s resourceful Joe Garofoli,  eMeg tried to blame the whole thing on Brown, whom she accused of a political stunt, and on Allred, whom she said was manipulating the housekeeper.

“Everything Gloria Allred is saying is an absolute lie,” she said.

The problem for eMeg, however, is less what Allred said (although there could be legal sanctions attached to the civil complaint the attorney said she will be filing) than what Diaz said.

The politics: Explaining the way she managed her household help for nine years was most likely not what eMeg hoped to be doing the day after she turned in a solid performance in her debate with Brown (although one reporter noticed eMeg was very shaky, almost trembling, at her post-debate press conference, and speculated, without a shred of evidence, she might have just learned of Allred’s plans. But we digress).

Several issues occur:

First, either she knew that her housekeeper was illegal, or she didn’t perform the due diligence to find out, which doesn’t speak well of her much-vaunted executive abilities. Liar or incompetent? You be the judge.

Beyond that, there is the question of eMeg’s oft-shifting policy positions on illegal immigration.

At Tuesday night’s debate, she stated, as clearly as she has done during the campaign, that she opposed any legislation that would provide a “pathway to citizenship” for undocumented workers.

Translating her policy view to her personal circumstance, this led her to slam the door in the face of  a woman who labored loyally, by all accounts, in her home for nine years and was asking for her help in making herself legal (BTW, since Nicky was doing all the housework and schlepping the kids around, why couldn’t Meg find time to vote? Inquiring minds want to know).

Her behavior will fuel Brown’s narrative that she is a hypocrite with an enlarged sense of entitlement, and that her wealth, values and social status give her contempt or, at best, indifference to the real-life problems of real-life working people. He made the point during the debate when he argued their values are very different because he respects the dignity of “people who clean bed pans, our police, our fire…I do cherish and appreciate the work they do.”

While it is still unclear what the fallout from the media storm over eMeg’s treatment of Diaz will be on the governor’s race, it is clear that Democrats will do all they can to keep it alive for Saturday’s second debate.

In that regard, it’s worth noting that the 6 p.m. newscast on Spanish language KMEX-TV in L.A. has a larger audience than any the three major networks.

PS: Did anyone else think it was more than a little suspicious that Team Whitman held a conference call to refute Nicky’s charges even before she and Allred made them, as if they were prepared for an eruption about eMeg’s illegal housekeeper problem?

PPIC: Brown, Whitman Tied; Boxer Leading Fiorina

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

A new survey from the Public Policy Institute of California finds the races for governor and Senate just about where the Field Poll had them – with Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman in a dead heat for governor and Barbara Boxer leading Carly Fiorina in the race for U.S. Senate.

About the only significant shift PPIC found was a movement among those they identified as independents, who shifted 10 points in favor of Whitman, with Whitman now at 38% and Brown at 30% compared to July when Brown had 30% and Whitman had 28%. More on this odd finding later.*

In the PPIC poll, Brown is only winning 63-13% among Democrats while Whitman is holding 71-10% among Republicans. They are tied among men with Whitman leading among women by 2%. That gender split is at odds with historical patterns wherein the Democrat traditionally trails among men and leads among women.

PPIC also showed Brown leading Whitman just 32-25% among Latinos – a smaller margin than the USC/LA Times poll had (51-32%), but closer to what the Field Poll reported (43-40%). All those Latino numbers, however, were before Nicky Diaz told her story Wednesday about working for Whitman.

According to PPIC, seven in 10 liberals and a plurality of moderates prefer Brown while two-thirds of conservatives favor Whitman.

A couple of interesting crosstabs PPIC ran for Calbuzz that show some fault lines:

Brown voters lean 5-3 against Prop 23, which would suspend California’s law limiting greenhouse gases, while Whitman voters lean 4-3 in favor of the proposition.

On a question that gets to creating a path to citizenship for illegal workers, 61% of likely voters said “most illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years . . .  should be given a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status” while just 35% said they should be deported back to their native country.”

Those favoring a path to citizenship lean 75-44% for Brown while those for deportation favor Whitman 52-20%. Also, Brown voters favor a path to citizenship over deportation by 46-21% while Whitman voters prefer deportation by 56-28%.

Here’s PPIC’s rundown on the Senate race:

Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer holds a 7-point lead over Republican Carly Fiorina in the U.S. senate race, with 17 percent of likely voters undecided. In July, the race was closer (39% Boxer, 34% Fiorina, 22% undecided). Today, Democrats (72%) support Boxer at much the same level as they did in July (68%); Republican support for Fiorina is also consistent (72% today, 72% July). Independents are currently divided in their support for Fiorina (34%) and Boxer (32%); in July, independents were somewhat more likely to prefer Boxer (35%) over Fiorina (29%). Boxer receives overwhelming support from liberals (74%) while 66 percent of conservatives favor Fiorina. A plurality of moderates say they will vote for Boxer (46%) rather than Fiorina (25%).

PPIC: Sept. 19-26; 2,004 adults surveyed, including 1,563 registered voters and 1,104 likely voters. Margin of error for likely voters is ±3.6 percent.

Another poll just out:

From Time/CNN: “Democrats Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown have cemented leads over their GOP opponents… Boxer leads Fiorina 52% to 43% among likely voters. That’s a significant improvement from earlier this month when a CNN-TIME-Opinion Research poll found Boxer just edging past Fiorina amongst likely voters 48% to 44%. Likewise in the gubernatorial race, Brown leads former eBay CEO Meg Whitman 52% to 43% among likely voters, a reversal of fortunes for Brown who earlier this month was losing to Whitman 46% to 48% in a poll conducted Sept. 2-7. Brown and Boxer both benefit from moderates breaking for them: 59% for Boxer to Fiorina’s 32% and 59% for Brown to Whitman’s 36%…. 786 likely voters… margin of error of plus or minus 3.5%.”

Footnote for polling weedwhackers

*This would be a significant movement if it were clear that those defined as independents in the PPIC poll really are independents. But it’s not. Like many pollsters nationwide, PPIC uses random digit dialing (RDD) to sample the adult population of California and then, with a series of questions, identifies Democrats, Republicans and independents and from them, using other questions, PPIC culls a sample of likely voters.

PPIC’s total sample, based on respondents’ answers, was 45% Democrats, 31% Republicans and 23% independents – close to registration but a bit high on independents. Their likely voter sample (which was not in their public release) was 45% Democrats, 36% Republicans and 18% independents – very similar to the proportions other public pollsters are using.

Other pollsters working in California politics have, for the sake of certainty and cost, moved to using the Secretary of State’s voter list from which to draw a sample of actual registered voters and then, using their actual voting history (and sometimes supplemental questions) determine who should be counted as a likely voter. The voter list does not include unlisted phone numbers or numbers for people who chose not to list one when they registered to vote. But it does include actual registered voters and their cell phone number if that’s what they listed when they registered.

RDD sampling, on the other hand, has the advantage of ensuring that every residential phone number in California, listed or not, has an equal chance of being included in the survey. But it relies on people’s responses to determine what party they’re in and if they’re likely to vote. So someone who is a Democrat but somewhat pissed off at the Democrats might tell a pollster he’s an independent. Or an independent might say she’s a Democrat. There’s no way to really know what party, if any, they’re registered in and if they’re really a likely voter. (Moreover, pollster have to supplement with random cellphone calls for which actual home residency can be tricky.)

Mark Baldassare, who runs PPIC’s polling, is very good at what he does. And his findings are extremely close to what the Field Poll found and not that far from what the LA Times/USC survey found. But a 10-point movement among independents is an odd finding that seems hard to explain from the post-Labor Day course of the campaign.

It’s possible that this movement is a function of how likely voters are defined in the survey. PPIC’s likely voter screen includes native and foreign born US citizens who say they are registered to vote and who say they always or nearly always vote. They must also say they have a great deal or fair amount of interest in politics and have at least some college education and have lived at their current residence up to five years OR they describe their interest in politics as only a little but have lived at their current residence for five years or more. In the months before an election PPIC also uses voters’ professed intention to vote and their measure of interest in politics to winnow out unlikely voters.

Including people who are registered Decline to State and including them only if they’ve voted in previous elections sure would be more straightforward.