Archive for 2010



Fishwrap: Krusty and Santa Meet Landslide Harris

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

The key question raised during Act II of Jerry Brown’s road show on the state budget in L.A. this week came from a local Long Beach vote grubber, as reported by the eagle eared Steve Harmon:

James Johnson, a Long Beach councilman, asked Brown how he intends to figure out the contradiction voters have between their desire to fully fund schools and their hostility to taxes.

Brown answered, partly in jest: “That’s why we’re here — we’re hoping one of you people will come up with it...

Fat chance.

As cuspidated cartoonist Tom Meyer illustrates today, it is precisely this bifurcated attitude of pixie dust magical thinking among Californians that almost-Governor Krusty must  confront and disabuse, lest he swiftly  disappoint the Golden State populace, and find himself as instantly unpopular and despised as his recent predecessors.

While Calbuzz has eye-glazingly droned about this political phenomenon,   it is a point worth repetition and elucidation (as demonstrated with some frequency by the “two Santa Claus theory” propounded by our friends over at Calitics , for example), the better to keep  front of mind the electoral landscape that provides such fallow ground for the chronic polarization that afflicts habitues of the Capitol.

Bottom line: As he surveys this political topography, Brown could do worse than to consult the wisdom of Calbuzz’s favorite despot, Chairman Mao:

The cardinal responsibility of leadership is to identify the dominant contradiction at each point of the historical process and to work out a central line to resolve it.

Ho, ho, ho.


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The audacity of audaciousness: Aging relics that we are, your Calbuzzards confess that we’ve been catching up on our sleep since all the excitement of last month’s election.

Nodding off at nappytime must have been the reason we missed the extraordinary news that Kamala Harris had been elected Queen of All She Surveys at some point over the last couple weeks.

What else could explain the overweening self-importance, pompous pretentiousness and garden variety delusions of grandeur that led Ms. Attorney General-elect to summon the state’s press corps to announce with trumpets blaring – Make Way, Make Way for the Empress of River City! – her “Transition Leadership Team,” a bloated and overblown engine of hot air and fecklessness festooned with gobbledegook about “best and brightest minds,” not to mention 11 – eleven, count ‘em, eleven – sub-committees and the enlisted services of Warren Christopher and George Shultz, California’s greatest living symbols of political decrepitude.

Transition to what? Give us a break.

“She’s got this queen complex and it will not play well here,” one veteran Sactown operative told us, summing up the prevailing cognoscenti view. “It’s ceremony for the sake of ceremony — all style, pomp and circumstance and no substance.”

Let us count the ways this thing is wrong, wrong, wrong:

1-Queen Kamala is stumbling into office on the weakness strength of a thoroughly underwhelming victory of 46.1-45.3% over L.A. DA Steve Cooley, a miniscule edge, eked out only after weeks of vote counting, which ain’t exactly what you like to call your sweeping mandate.

2-Landslide Harris clearly benefited from incumbent AG Brown’s coattails (or Meg Whitman’s undertow, depending on how you look at it) yet presumes to insult and trash by implication his stewardship of the office,  declaring that now that SHE’s here, we can finally be about the work of deciding “how to fix the state’s broken criminal justice system,” as she modestly put it in her big announcement.

3-The new AG’s framing of her ascension as the Long-Awaited Arrival of the One is in sharp contrast to both Brown and Lite Gov-elect Gavin Newsom, who so far have handled their transitions in a low-key, no-frills way (despite following incumbents of the other party) more befitting, you know, a routine transfer of political power after an election.

4-Harris’s shaky record in San Francisco, with its botched handling of a cop killing, an illegal immigrant multiple murderer and a shameful scandal over tainted evidence that got scores of drug cases tossed, normally would have been enough to bury her, had she not opposed a guy who ran the worst campaign in the history of the world, but that, in any case, is not exactly a case study for developing what she brags will be  “smart and innovative policies.”

5-The newbie top cop (not to mention the rest of us) would be better served by her spending at least a little time scouting out the bathrooms before leading us all into a golden age of law enforcement nirvana.

Much of Harris’s grandstanding, of course, likely has less to do with the operations of the AG’s office than with her wasting no time beginning to position herself for a future governor’s race. No matter how many pull-ups the 72-year old Krusty can do, younger ambitious Democrats (see: Villaraigosa, A.and Newsom, G.) can’t help but calculate the odds he’ll be a one-term governor and nobody wants to be left at the starting gate.

Must reads of the week or whatever:

Why April 11, 1954 was the most boring day in history.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn what America’s most annoying word is.

Terrific yarn from Neon Tommy about the guy who took the iconic picture of the Kent State massacre.

Amid all the chatter about Brown eyeing a special election, Timm Herdt seems to be the only one (besides Big Dan Walters Himself) who bothered to look at the calendar.

Both Peggy Noonan and Michael Gerson have excellent takedowns on the shabby way Obama handled the tax deal.

At least Krusty’s not alone.

Dr. H Returns, Calbuzz Classic, Weird Holiday Dogs

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Despite his annual struggle against Seasonal Affect Disorder, Calbuzz staff psychiatrist Dr. P. J. Hackenflack has bravely battled his way through the stacks of mail that have piled up since the election, and graciously agreed to return today to answer our readers’ burning psycho-political questions.

Dear Dr. Hackenflack,
Now that the election’s over, is Meg Whitman feeling any regrets about the way she treated her housekeeper, Nicky Diaz?
– Gloria La Rouge, West Hollywood

Totally. She can’t find anyone to clean the kitchen or do the wash, let alone bring in  the mail.

To the Honorable P.J. Hackenflack,
I’ve noticed that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa all of a sudden is traveling around the country trying to raise his profile. Wussup with that?
– Cass A. Nova, Reno

Ignore the political speculation. Just happens Tony V’s run through all the female anchors in L.A. and feels ready to move up to network news babes.

Dr. H,
Why is Dianne Feinstein running for another term at her age? I’ve seen younger faces on cash.
– Tom C. Silicon Valley

She’s determined to pass Strom Thurmond on the all-time Senate geezer list.

Yo Doc,
A friend said Jerry Brown is going to make his wife his chief of staff in the governor’s office. Do you think that’s a good idea?
– Jacques B, Paris, France

Yo Jacques – the doc is still trying to finagle invites to the big inaugural parties, so no way I’m touchin’ that one, dude.

To whom it may concern,
One of the Hollywood blogs said Arnold Schwarzenegger is in line to play the lead in a remake of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” True?
–  J.M. Stewart, Indiana Pennsylvania

False. He’s actually signed to play Willy Loman in an update of “Death of a Salesman.”

Sir,
I saw on the news that Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton sat in the audience instead of onstage at Jerry Brown’s first public hearing on the budget. Do you think that was an effective protest?
– Darrell S, K Street Mall

Bob who?

Hello Dr. Hackenflack,
Ana Matosantos seems like a nice, smart person, but it seems strange that Jerry’s keeping on Arnold’s finance director. Can you shed any light?
– Harry P, Sacramento

Turns out Governor Gandalf was time traveling when he met her and thinks he’s rehired Adriana Gianturco.

Hey Doc,
Now that San Francisco’s mayor’s been elected lieutenant governor, there’s a big fight to replace him. Who’s the best candidate?
– W. Brown Mineola, Tex.

Clearly Gavin Newsom. He has absolutely nothing else to do for the next four years.

Calbuzz Classic: Less than three weeks before he takes the oath of office as governor, Jerry Brown is already making moves to assume the powers of the state’s chief executive.  So we thought it was an appropriate time to start measuring Brown’s acts against his words in the campaign. Here’s a piece we ran on April 13, 2009, based on the first major interview with Krusty that focused on his bid for governor:

Reflecting on his first incarnation as California governor, Jerry Brown says he was overly concerned with the importance of new ideas and not focused enough on the practicalities of getting things done.

In the first extensive interview about his 2010 gubernatorial bid, Brown told Calbuzz that if he wins back, at the age of 72, the office he first captured when he was 36, things will be different.

“Then I emphasized new ideas, now I would emphasize management more,” he told us. “It was very exciting then, but without losing that sense of innovation, I’d be more practical-minded, very detailed, focused on follow through and consensus building . . . I’d be looking for people who are seasoned administrators.”

In a telephone interview last week, Brown said he is motivated to seek a second turn as governor by his own “unspent potential,” a notion he credited to the anthropologist Gregory Bateson: “The key to flexibility is not spending all your potential.”

Speaking in rushing streams of high-speed sentences, Brown talked of everything from how to attack Sacramento’s partisan dysfunction to the hair products used by Democratic rival Gavin Newsom. Boasting that his two terms as governor were “good years” for California, he rattled off a list of accomplishments, while uncharacteristically acknowledging some shortcomings.

“My sense of management has been refined and developed,” said the man who, as governor, was known to mock and belittle the pathways, processes and procedures of state government and those who work in it.

His candidacy still formally undeclared, Brown only occasionally used the phrase “if I run,” in portraying himself as a master politician whose experience in elected office at every level – mayor, attorney general, state party chairman, to name a few – affords him unmatched understanding of government organization and operations which he would wield at California’s intractable problems.

“I have a greater sense of how things get done and don’t get done,” he said. “I have a much better, hands-on understanding of how (government) functions . . . a sense of how things work . . . a much better sense of sizing people up and how you go about building an administration.”

We wanted to interview Brown to ask his views on seven key questions we posed to all the candidates in one of our first posts. In his own fashion, he addressed most of them. However, Brown staunchly refused to specify what combination of cuts and tax hikes he would support to deal with chronic deficits, beyond stressing his view that California is a “very high tax” state and dismissing as politically impractical the proposal to amend Proposition 13 by taxing commercial and industrial property at higher rates than residential property.

“Anyone who answers that (tax and cuts question) will never have a chance to be governor,” he said. “It’s very hard to discuss with particularity anything that can be turned into (campaign) fodder.”

Moreover, he added, “dictating from the corner office does not work . . . If eliminating the structural problems in the California budget were easy, Wilson, Davis and Schwarzenegger would have done it.”

How would he deal with fiercely ideological legislators on the left and the right?

“I’m going to become an apostle of common sense,” he said. “I will disabuse them of their ill-conceived predilections.”

“There’s an embedded partisanship that has to become disembedded,” he said. “In my bones, I’m not that partisan. I’m an independent thinker. That’s my tradition. I’ve been wary of ideology since I left the Sacred Heart Novitiate (in 1960).”

(Nostalgia footnote: Brown’s reference to “common sense” reminded us that when we covered his 1992 “Winter Soldier” campaign for president, he signed copies of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” at a bookstore in Nashua, New Hampshire.)

[Only later did we discover that there had been a TV series about one of Brown's intellectual inspirations, hosted by Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, titled " G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense."]

We asked Brown this key question: What do you want to do as governor?

He quickly ticked off four key concerns with specific ideas in each area: Renewable energy; prison reform; education reform; water policy (we’ll report details on these in future posts).

He acknowledged that pushing through innovative solutions on these issues would be difficult in the polarized atmosphere of Sacramento. He labeled as “a type of anarchy” the view of some GOP lawmakers that sending the state into bankruptcy is preferable to voting for a budget that includes tax increases.

“That kind of subversive attitude is unacceptable,” Brown said.

Asked about structural reforms, Brown said he doesn’t “think term limits have been helpful” because they create a revolving door mentality, with lawmakers constantly running for the next office.

“People being around 20 years is a problem. But people being around for just six years is a bigger problem,” he said. “They become more dependent on interest groups because they don’t have time to develop loyalty in their districts.”

While not a fan of the two-thirds majority vote needed to pass budgets, Brown said he doesn’t think there is a “mechanical” cure to structural financial problems.

Sounding most unlike an old-school Jerry Brown Democrat, he argued repeatedly that regulations making California less competitive than surrounding states must be challenged. “We have to make sure that regulation does not curtail business,” he said, echoing the Chamber of Commerce more than the Sierra Club.

On the issue of his age, about which Newsom and others (including Calbuzz) have needled him – Brown said the question was “meaningless.”

“Is their premise that my opponents think faster than me? Do they want to challenge me to a timed multiple-choice test?”

Informed that he’s older than the ballpoint pen, Brown laughed. “I remember the ballpoint pen,” he said, recalling that when the instrument came out, it was available to students only in blue ink (and it leaked).

The age attack “has no meaning . . . If Feinstein is so old, how come she’s 20 points ahead (in polls listing her as a candidate)?”

“It’s all about creativity . . . The fact that they’re attacking me is a plus, not a minus . . . I don’t know that it’s bad to be associated with Linda Ronstadt and the Beatles.”

As for those behind the line of attack on his septuagenarian status, Brown personally chided Newsom and his strategist Garry South:

“I don’t know whether he’s sniffing his hairspray or what,” the buzz-cut Brown said of South. “Between the hairspray and the gel (favored by Newsom) I think they’re getting a little intoxicated.”

Ho, ho, ho: Just because we can’t resist pictures of dogs in goofy costumes.

Jerry’s Challenge, Tony V’s Play, Arianna’s Aura

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown’s Budget Teach-In last week in Sacramento was refreshing in its openness — with Brown and other presenters warning that the state’s budget shortfall is now estimated at about $28 billion between now and July 2012. No smoke. No mirrors. Just cold ugly facts.

But the gathering at Memorial Auditorium only took about 12 seconds to demonstrate anew that the fundamental conflict in Sacramento will not be solved by gathering everyone in a room together, sitting around the fireplace and singing kumbaya. Collegiality and civility certainly have been in short supply among the locusts fine men and women California voters have sent to the capital on their behalf.  But the principal contradiction is not a matter of congeniality — it remains political and ideological.

Most of the Democrats, and all of their leaders, believe the state’s budget shortfall is a revenue problem. They think taxes aren’t properly distributed and that solutions will be found by increasing revenues.

Most of the Republicans, and all of their leaders, believe the state’s budget shortfall is a spending problem. They think cutting unnecessary and overly generous state spending is the road to salvation.

KQED’s John Myers outlined the conflict nicely last week under the headline: “Jerry, Meet Gridlock; Gridlock, Jerry.”

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did no better — and some would argue a lot worse — than his Democratic predecessor, Gray Davis, at placing California on a firm financial footing. As he skips town, he leaves behind a huge mess that former-and-future Gov. Brown now must try to clean up.

Rumors abound that Jerry is planning to craft an austere budget which he will use as Exhibit A to obtain from voters some sort of temporary tax increase in June, or perhaps even a measure granting voters in cities, counties and school districts the authority to raise taxes with a majority vote or at least something less than two-thirds.

That would certainly return decision-making to local communities, “closer to the people” as he said in his campaign commercials. This of course could only succeed if Republicans and conservatives did not wage war against it. Which brings us back to the principal contradiction, which is a matter of ideology not civility.

To a cartoonist, like our Tom Meyer, it’s all a huge pile of garbage that’s been left behind by the previous administration and Legislature.  It’s hard to argue with that.


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What does Tony V want (don’t ask the LAT): Not since M.C. Escher has there been such a perfect image of bizarre and inescapable bureaucracy as the By God Los Angeles Times displayed over the past week in its  mishandling of an important political story involving hometown mayor Tony Villaraigosa.

Villaraigosa was in Sacramento on Tuesday to deliver the opening speech of the big conference on the state’s future sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California, which drew about 600 political and policy types, including the likes of such national names as Judy Woodruff, Van Jones and Dan Balz of the Washpost.

Despite an early morning speaking slot that preceded the day’s first panel, focused on education, Tony V promptly made news: Villaraigosa, whose labor organizing and Sacramento political careers featured fierce advocacy for teacher unions, surprised his weed whacking audience by issuing a harsh denunciation of those very unions:

What is stopping us from changing direction?

Why, for so long, have we allowed denial and indifference to defeat action? I do not raise this question lightly, and I do not come to my conclusion from a lack of experience. I was a legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association, and I was a union organizer for United Teachers of Los Angeles. From the time I entered the California State Assembly and became Speaker, to my tenure as Mayor of Los Angeles, I have fought to fund and reform California’s public schools.

Over the past five years, while partnering with students, parents and non-profits, business groups, higher education, charter organizations, school district leadership, elected board members and teachers, there has been one, unwavering roadblock to reform: UTLA union leadership. While not the biggest problem facing our schools, they have consistently been the most powerful defenders of the status quo…Regrettably, they have yet to join us as we have forged ahead with a reform agenda.

Tony V’s deliberately provocative comments, coming from California’s most prominent Latino politician, not to mention a lifelong union goon, were a big deal, voiced at a time when teacher unions are increasingly embattled by national education reform efforts, starting in the White House.

And that’s how the matter was treated – by almost everyone except Hizzoner’s hometown paper.

Within minutes, David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, had fired back at the mayor during a panel discussion that followed his speech. The relentless Jack Chang filed a post about the conflict on the Bee’s Capitol Alert blog not long after, as did the invaluable John Fensterwald on his state education blog .

By the next morning the reform-minded Joe Mathews had characterized Villaraigosa’s remarks as “the most significant speech given by a California politician this year,” and a variety of broadcast and wire reports, along with several newspaper editorials strongly supporting the mayor’s sentiments, were circulating.

And amid all the urgent buzz over the next two days, the L.A. Times produced . . . radio silence.

Not a word from any beat, anywhere on its far-flung editorial depth chart, which is rivaled only by the forces that gathered for the invasion of Normandy for organizational complexity and resources.

Our motto: if it’s news, it’s news to us.

Finally, on Friday morning, Times editors managed to clue their readers into what their mayor had been up to that week. A double byline story by Patrick McDonnell, who writes about labor, and City Hall reporter David Zahniser,  which also included reporting by Teresa Watanabe and Jason Song of the education desk, finally caught up with the news – a full 72 hours after Villaraigosa spoke.

“I knew it would cause a firestorm,” Villaraigosa said in an interview Thursday, two days after the speech.

This just in: Big firestorm slowly heading toward L.A.

In the end, it was left to Cathy Decker,  the paper’s ever reliable state politics editor, to clean up the elephantine mess with a Sunday thumbsucker that addressed the key question puzzling Calbuzz readers: WTF is Tony V up to?

“For a Democratic politician who is presumed to have ambitions once he is termed out of office in 2013, Villaraigosa’s moves were intriguing,” Decker wrote.

To those more Machiavellian in nature — say, the entire political establishment — other possibilities came to mind: Villaraigosa was angling for an Obama administration job. He was declaring independence from party positions and powers in preparation for a future statewide run. Or he was trying to redefine his mayoralty in a way that could reap benefits down the line, were he to decide to exercise options one or two….

Part of the difficulty in divining what Villaraigosa was trying to accomplish last week is the parallel difficulty in figuring out where he might be going.

Decker seemed to hit upon the nut of the matter when she noted that, regardless of Tony V’s secret aspirations, he needs to bump up his profile, now, to avoid being generationally squeezed out, between California’s Democratic Geezer Trio and its cool new Dynamic Duo:

When he first ran for mayor in 2001, Villaraigosa was seen as one of the Democratic Party’s up-and-comers. Now the senior Democrats — Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Gov.-elect Jerry Brown — are in their 70s. Villaraigosa will be pushing 60 when the next big race occurs — Feinstein’s Senate seat is up in 2012, though she has said she plans to run again. Catching up with the mayor is a younger group of Democrats, personified by the incoming lieutenant governor and attorney general, Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris. Both are in their 40s.

For upward momentum, or just a legacy, Villaraigosa has to make good on his basic pledges: to lower crime, improve schools and increase jobs. Crime has been down, but joblessness is high. Voters can cut mayors slack during national downturns, but no such slack is likely when it comes to the state of the schools. Villaraigosa himself said years ago that voters should “absolutely” hold him responsible for reforming schools, and unless he can convince voters that the unions are to blame, they are likely to hold him to it.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Remind us again why she gets to be on “Meet the Press”?