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Fraud at Polls: Palin, Nicky, eMeg Meet DWTS & JFK

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Press Clips: This week’s coveted Dorothy Kilgallen Investigative Gossip Award goes to Jezebel’s Tracie Egan Morrissey for uncovering the scandal of  Sarah Palin’s vote scam on behalf of daughter Bristol’s candidacy on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Along with much of the blogosphere, the Calbuzz Department of Popular Culture Trends and Mortifying Guilty Pleasures erupted with outrage on Tuesday, when Palin the Younger made it into this season’s DWTS finals, while pop singer Brandy got the boot.

Bristol’s lumbering terpsichorean exertions recall nothing so much as one of those tutu-clad dancing baby hippos from “Fantasia” – and we mean that in the nicest possible way.

Nevertheless, she has been kept on the show week after week, while far more talented and appealing, third-rank “celebrity” dancers have been cut. Despite consistently getting the lowest scores from the show’s panel of professional judges, she’s survived because of a weekly barrage of phoned and texted votes from among DWTS’s audience of 20 million viewers.

From the start, all right thinking people agreed there was something fishy about the whole thing, amid widespread suggestions that Sarah Palin was somehow gaming the system on behalf of her offspring, through the use of her Tea Party network of acolytes and sycophants. But it was all just speculation – until Jezebel finally nailed down the truth, which seems to be the biggest case of ballot fraud since Mayor Daley delivered the cemetery vote for JFK.

While Bristol Palin denies any Tea Party conspiracy theories, there’s no denying that conservatives have been pushing for votes for Bristol, using blogs and Twitter to start a movement. But what isn’t widely known is the evidence—via message board comments on some conservative sites—that this mobilization involves fixing this (albeit meaningless) election through a technical snafu on ABC’s website, which allows Palin’s supporters to cast an infinite number of email votes.

Scouring Tea Party and Sarah fan sites, the resourceful Morrissey quickly discovered mountains of proof about the plot, which was organized and dubbed “Operation Bristol” by Palin political hacks, sprinkled among the comments left by the witless TPers themselves:

“Here’s a hint: They don’t have to be VALID email addresses to register them with ABC.com, there is apparently no validation process. The just have to be formatted like a valid email address, and you must use a valid zip code and a birthdate that makes you old enough to vote. I’m voting like a democrat, all night long…”

“No, it doesn’t have to be a valid email address – I had one of my anonymous ones XXX@yahoo.com that I used, and then just did the sign-up process all over again with XXX1@yahoo.com and it worked.”

“Got my 80 votes in online…took 2 hours. I am beat”

“I only got 42 in, I have some catching up to do!”

“Lord have mercy, I voted for 3 hours online! I got 300 in.”

Well and good, but what, we hear some regular readers asking, is the political significance of this kerfuffle to me, a member in good standing of the Calbuzz Cognoscenti? Just this: In a week when Sarah Palin declared that she can beat President Obama in 2012,  the incident speaks volumes about the character and qualifications of the erstwhile half-governor of Alaska, in at least three ways:

1-Palin freely countenances lying, cheating and fraud to get what she wants, despite her constant caterwauling about the corruption of Democrats and ridiculous self-portrayal as a reformer.

2-The Palinistas’ blind determination to make Bristol a winner, despite her obvious lack of ability, reflects the world view of Sarah and her followers, which embraces know-nothing anti-intellectualism and rejects meritocracy in favor of personal prejudice.

3-The “Operation Bristol” campaign displays a malevolent, us-against-them manicheism, as when pro-Palin commenters, not content to boost their gal, also feel compelled to smear and trash Jennifer Grey, the graceful and talented front-runner on the show, as a “Hollywood elite,” even as Bristol herself portrays anyone who opposes her as a “hater” and offers less than  half-hearted apologies for the homophobic ravings of her charming sister, Willow.

Shame on you, John McCain, for unleashing this  whack job on America.

For the record: Calbuzz wishes to make perfectly clear that we disassociate ourselves completely from the actions of Steven Cowan, the 67-year old Wisconsin man who blasted his TV with a shotgun after watching Tuesday’s DWTS. We would never shoot our TV, at the risk of missing an episode of “Detroit 187,” but instead would aim at the nearest table lamp or kitchen appliance.

You just can’t find good help: Nice work by Chronicler Carla Marinucci for her comprehensive, multi-platform, follow-up coverage of eMeg Whitman’s former housekeeper getting the last word in their politically charged dispute over back wages, and mega-kudos to the Sacbee’s Susan Ferris for digging into the tantalizing, still-unanswered question of how eMeg maid Nicky Diaz found her way to media-savvy Gloria Allred.

As Ferris reports, leaders of the California Nurses Association refused to deny that they played the key role in the behind-the-scenes Nicky machinations that helped torpedo Whitman’s campaign, and that now have led to working class heroine status for Diaz herself. Regardless, there is no question that the CNA emerged as one of the biggest winners of the 2012 campaign, as Jim Carlton of the Wall Street Journal ably reports.

And while we’re on the subject, Joe Mathews is just wrong, wrong, wrong with his Fox and Hounds argument that the Nicky revelations would have sunk eMeg whenever they came.

As a political matter, by surfacing the story herself the summer before, Meg not only would have pre-empted the matter by timing it early enough so it would be old news by the time the campaign started for real, but also could have finessed a big negative into a positive, but saying something like: “My own personal experience really brought home to me the complicated human and emotional issues involved in this problem, which is an important reason why as governor I will do my best to help find effective solutions to illegal immigration, which affects so many Californians in so many ways.”

Instead eMeg decided to try to cover up the whole mess and, when it inevitably came to light, tried the modified, limited-hangout route before deciding that Nicky should just be deported. The rest is history.

BTW: Just about every other news outlet that covered the Allred-Diaz appearance before the labor board in San Jose (where Mr. Whitman, aka Dr. Griff Harsh, agreed to pony up $5,500 in back pay to Nicky) had posts up online about the happenings before the, ahem, San Jose Mercury Snooze. Just sayin’.

Just because: South Koreans love them some Santa-clad penguins.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Calbuzz to use “sentiment analysis” to gauge value of using more “dancing baby hippos” references in future posts.

Memo to CA GOP: Time to Do Something Different

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

After watching the California Republican Party implode in the 2010 election – spectacularly in the cases of Meg Whitman’s campaign for governor and Carly Fiorina’s run for U.S. Senate – Calbuzz has some unsolicited advice for the state’s Grand Old Party.

Just as Democrats in Washington are being urged to re-calibrate after the spanking their party got in some parts of the country, Republicans in California need to do a little re-calibrating themselves.

Before we offer our pearls of wisdom, however, let’s dispense of the howling response we expect from some of our friends in the right-wing peanut gallery (we name no names, Flash) who will surely hurl the “liberals” canard at Calbuzz and say we just want the Republicans to become Democrats.

Not true. We don’t want Republicans to become Democrats — we want Republicans to become relevant.

So that there is a vigorous contest of ideas in California politics. Right now, Republicans are so trapped in their ideological hall of mirrors that they have become a distorted caricature of themselves. They can thump their chests and win big attaboys at the California Republican Assembly convention. But they utterly  fail to reflect the impulses of the vast majority of California voters who tend to be fiscally conservative and socially moderate.

Republicans believe in smaller government, lower taxes, reduced regulation, economic growth, individual freedom and law and order, to name a few GOP values.

They should continue to stand and fight for all of those. But they need to build all that into a platform that begins with a realistic growth agenda. Investments in roads, bridges, dams and/or levees, water projects, schools and universities, redevelopment projects, ports – all these things and more – are wholly consistent with their philosophical world view. Their fixation on opposing everything the Democrats propose is hurting them more than it is helping them.

Republicans could become leading advocates of an economic rebound strategy that relies on Silicon Valley innovation, green jobs, high-tech research and development. They could integrate this with increased exports for a growing agricultural sector and a healthy and expanding service economy.

They don’t have to continually serve the interests of the wealthiest 2% of California families – they can focus of the struggling middle class. And they need to remember that California is not Kentucky or Alaska or any other state where the so-called “tea party” is a big deal. In California, tea party ideology is a non-starter.

It’s time for leaders of the California Republican Party to rethink their general strategy and the specifics of their agenda. Here’s where they should start:

1.  Change your position on a “path to citizenship.” You can and should strongly favor securing the borders against illegal immigration. That’s a matter of defending our sovereignty and integrity as a nation.

The political reason you fear changing on citizenship is that you’re afraid that if all those illegal Mexicans and other Latinos become U.S. citizens, they will bolster the Democratic Party. And that’s certainly a valid fear of a potential outcome.

But it needn’t be that way.

Just as the Republican Party was the Northern standard-bearer for the abolition of slavery in the 1850s and 1860s, so could the California Republican Party become the advocate for citizenship for honest working men and women who have come to the U.S. to make better lives for themselves and their families.

Nine in 10 Latinos in California — and a healthy majority of independent voters — support a path to citizenship for people who have been working here illegally for two years or more. Get on their side. Make them your allies.

You know who will be unhappy? Big labor, pro-choice forces and culturally liberal Democrats who want to keep Latino voters in their corner. Latino Catholic culture is quite conservative on family issues. You don’t have to moderate on too many of these. But you drive Latinos away with your anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric. Your current policy just panders to the politics of resentment and makes you look bad. Time to move on.

2. Get on board with green jobs and environmental conservation. By arguing that people must pick either environment or economic development, you’re creating a false choice. And voters know it.

Plenty of Republicans – from the late David Packard to George Schultz – have proved that you can be a rock-ribbed Republican and also in favor of preserving and enhancing the environment. Of course environmentalism has to be balanced against other competing interests – like healthy agriculture, water supplies to cities and reasonable, controlled growth in and around urban areas.

But you have made fighting environmental regulation a cause. Your political calculation is that the business forces in your camp cannot tolerate stepped-up regulation and enforcement. But that’s old-school thinking. Only retrograde – and politically poisonous – corporations are afraid of the New Environmental World Order. You should make this part of some sort of 21st Century capitalism project, or something. Don’t let old school enviros control this vote rich sector.

3.  Develop your bench. Start grooming young, bright, articulate Republicans in cities, counties, Assembly districts and elsewhere.

Send them off to advanced management training at Harvard or Stanford. Introduce them to business leaders, venture capitalists, university presidents, foundation chiefs, leading journalists and party funders. Get them involved in key issues and causes.

Teach them about practical politics and polling and other insider skills as well. Train them in how to talk to reporters. Help them learn to think on their feet, to answer questions without betraying their ignorance and how to talk with ordinary people without sounding like they’re preaching or talking just from a list of talking points. Do what big-time college athletic programs do – recruit district by district.

4.  Reconsider your stance on abortion. There’s got to be a way to move to the center on this question where you support a woman’s right to choose in line with Roe vs Wade without endorsing or even supporting abortion.

Don’t give up your commitment to the idea that abortion is a moral choice. But recognize that it’s a moral choice that individuals have to make – not one that can be legislatively controlled.

You can be in favor of life and in favor of reducing the number of abortions. Be for, not against, family planning, like Barry Goldwater was. In a sense, become libertarian on the issue. You may never get the endorsement of the most ardent pro-choice groups, but you can neutralize the power of the issue. And if you can recruit pro-choice Republicans, all the better.

Your goal should be to build a coalition based on the overarching goal of reducing the number of abortions, but without all the wasted breath on  abstinence and all the hysterical opposition to teen sex education.

5. Sound sensible, not strident. The problem with the tea party rhetoric that some of you find so attractive is that it sounds like the ravings of a crazy old uncle who really ought to be locked in the attic.

The vast majority of California voters are moderate, independent-minded, pragmatic people. They don’t much care if an idea comes from a Democrat or a Republican. They just want it to make sense.

They’re not against government; they just want government to work on their behalf. They’re not opposed to all taxes; they’re opposed to taxes that seem unfair, onerous or overly broad. They want to control the borders but they also want to be fair to people who have worked hard to make a living, no matter where they come from.

They’re not pro-abortion but they want women and their doctors — not Assembly members and state senators — to make choices about the life and death of fetuses. California voters are tired of people running for office who sound like they think they know everything and whose answers are purely ideological.

You need to have a hard head. But you also need to demonstrate a soft heart. And maybe a touch of humility.

Untold Story: How the Latino Vote Hit Critical Mass

Monday, November 15th, 2010

By Richie Ross
Special to Calbuzz

Back in 1992, the first “year of the woman,” both Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein were on the ballot for election to the United States Senate.  They both won.  The Los Angeles Times exit poll calculated that they each received 52% of the Latino vote.

In 1994, then-Governor Pete Wilson put Proposition 187 on the ballot.  It was the nation’s first anti-immigrant initiative.  The hallmark of the campaign was the famous television ad with images of undocumented people running across the border.  The announcer intoned, “They keep coming.”

If he only knew!

In the just concluded election, Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer captured 65% or 80% of that vote (depending on which exit poll you believe). More importantly, it was a bigger pie – 3 times larger than back in 1992. It was one of the major factors that kept the red tide out of California – and a factor that will only get bigger.

Here’s the story of how that happened…

Beginning in 1994, California began to change.  The numbers of immigrants who became citizens grew exponentially each year.  According to the Department of Homeland Security’s statistics, prior to Proposition 187, the number of new citizens in California each year had been a steady 50,000 to 60,000.  In 1994, the number jumped to 118,567.  In 1995, it was 171,285.  In 1996, 378,014. You get the idea.

Also in 1994, a husband and wife team, Miguel Contreras the leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and Maria Elena Durazo, then the leader of the Hotel Workers in Los Angeles (now Miguel’s successor at the Labor Fed) began something new: they linked organizing immigrant workers to organizing immigrant voters.  And they hired a young immigrant-rights firebrand, Fabian Nunez, as he protested Proposition 187 by carrying the Mexican flag down Broadway in Los Angeles.

Nunez served as L.A. Labor’s political director and eventually became the Speaker of the Assembly.

The campaigns we developed broke new ground, organized new union workers, and increased the political impact Latino voters have had on California politics – simultaneously tripling their number of registered voters, increasing the Democratic share of that vote by 50%, and doubling the percentage of the total votes cast in California from Latinos.

Through the rest of the 1990′s our campaigns focused on legislative races in Los Angeles.  We succeeded.  But it was all small.

In 2000, Maria Elena pushed for something bigger…

In 2000, our message was controversial (until it worked).  “If you want to make a difference, voting isn’t enough.  Don’t bother voting unless you sign our pledge to get 100% of your family to vote.”  Latino turnout rose… and accounted for 14% of the votes cast according to the State’s voter registration and voting history records.

In 2005, over dinner with some friends, Maria Elena heard a successful Latina businesswoman bemoaning the low Latino turn-out for Antonio Villaraigosa in March of 05. The woman told Maria Elena that it was “Imperdonable” (Unforgivable).

The City’s voting records show that the L.A. Labor Fed’s “Imperdonable” campaign increased Latino turn-out in the Mayoral run-off by 50%.

In May this year, Maria Elena called us together.  Her message was clear.  Latinos would end up voting for Jerry Brown.  That would be easy.  The challenge was how to motivate them to vote at all.

Fortunately, the Republicans in Arizona wrote a new law.

When we conducted focus groups, people brought the issue up to us.  When we polled it, we found 93% of California Latinos knew about it, 84% said it was more about profiling than immigration, and 73% thought it could happen in California. That view became more  believable when Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner in the Republican primary tried to outdo one another as anti-immigrant politicians.

So instead of a campaign where our candidate was a 72-year-old white guy, Maria Elena and the L.A Fed ran a campaign on behalf of “Tuesday” – Martes – and against an opponent – Arizona – that research told us Latinos were motivated to defeat.

And Fabian?  After he met with Maria Elena this summer, he decided to fund the “Martes Si, Arizona No!” television ad campaign. [Which not coincidentally included a pitch in favor of Prop. 25, the measure for a majority vote on the state budget -- Ed]

Latinos accounted for 22% of the votes cast in California.  None of us know how much bigger this trend will be.  We do know that Pete Wilson’s TV ad got one thing right… they keep coming… to the polls.

Editor’s note: For more on labor’s 2010 mailings to Latinos, including prayer cards of Jerry Brown with Mother Teresa and Cesar Chavez, check this out.