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Archive for 2011



Arnold’s Exit Reeks; Must Read for Political Junkies

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Our first inclination was to let Arnold Schwarzenegger’s long-awaited and very welcome departure from Sacramento pass, feeling content to bid good riddance to bad rubbish without remarking on the occasion.

Unfortunately, and despite the big blast of fresh air that Jerry Brown’s inauguration blew into the capital this week, the atmosphere still reeks of the feculent odor produced by the final acts of the phony huckster who held California captive to his unbridled narcissism for the past seven years.

The parade of hacks, sycophants and cronies that he and his Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy shamelessly appointed to six-figure scam government jobs is reprehensible enough; sadly, however, it differs mainly in degree from the actions of previous one-step-ahead-of-the-posse administrations. What is truly different, and truly stomach-churning, is Schwarzenegger’s cowardly action in reducing the prison sentence of the punk son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez in the knife attack killing of a student at the San Diego State campus several years ago.

What Dan Walters properly and precisely labeled the “foul stench”  of Schwarzenegger’s move had one and only one motive – to misuse his public trust power to do a personal favor for a political ally; the big bad movie tough guy didn’t even have the courage – let alone the common decency – to notify the dead kid’s family, who had to learn the news from a reporter while  the gutless ex-governor sneaked out of town like a “con man on the run,” as Chronicler Deb Saunders aptly put it.

It’s instructive that young Nunez, clearly raised with a keen sense of entitlement, boasted to his friends after the killing that his father was a big shot who would help them avoid the need to take responsibility for their craven actions.

In a broad sense, the most destructive impact of Schwarzenegger’s move is the message it sends to Californians that they’re right to hold a low opinion of state government as a fix-is-in special interest operation doling out goodies and personal rewards to privileged insiders – even one convicted of a senseless act of manslaughter – while treating as a bunch of chumps ordinary folks whose daddies don’t happen to be close pals of the governor.

“The significant damage is that his behavior merely reaffirms the cynicism and disgust most Californians hold for the institution of government,” George Skelton wrote in an on-the-money column on the matter.  And as Tom Meyer illustrates today, the spectacle of such disgusting behavior performed by an alleged, self-described “reformer” is a mockery that reveals Schwarzenegger to be a bigger fraud than even Calbuzz thought possible.


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Life after (thank God) Arnold: If you didn’t get a copy under the Christmas tree this year and you’re jonesin’ for a fix of unfiltered California politics, you should pick up a copy of “California After Arnold,” an insightful look at where we’ve been and where we might be headed by a couple of longtime Democratic intellectuals.

Steve Cummings and Patrick Reddy have gone to a lot of trouble to pull together an enormous compendium of polling, census and voting data on California, which is just the 208-page appendix to their smart analysis of  Schwarzenegger’s election and governorship and a survey of the history, structure and likely future of California politics.

This is not a breezy read. But it’s packed with keen observations and research that allows them to make conclusions like:

– The preliminary assessment (of Schwarzenegger’s performance) is on the edge of either a B-minus or a C-plus.

– From a fiscal standpoint, Jerry Brown was much more like Ronald Reagan than Pat Brown.

– For some forty years, Californians have wanted a blue state culture financed on a red state budget.

– Proposition 187 shook the Hispanic giant out of its slumber because it threatened the one thing they consider most precious – their children.

Besides having the brilliance to quote liberally from Calbuzz, Cummings and Reddy appear to have read and digested every poll, voting tabulation, census factoid and consultant’s playbook for the past several decades.

Their unflinching analysis of Tom Bradley’s narrow loss to George Deukmejian in 1982 not only considers the effect of the Handgun Registration Initiative and lackluster Latino turnout for the black Democrat, but even extends to “urban white precincts that were in close proximity to black neighborhoods.”

If Tom Bradley had won every white Democrat who voted for the extremely unpopular Jerry Brown [for US Senate] that same day, he would have been governor of the nation’s most populous state. There is no explanation for the loss of white working class voters other than race.

Published after the 2010 governor’s race had begun but before it was over, Cummings and Reddy provided nice capsule profiles of the various candidates but were unable to analyze the outcome.

But even before the final combatants were known, they predicted, “If the general election is between Brown and a conservative, Brown will win. The Republicans have simply no one to match up with him.”

They got that right, too.

Make way, make way: Looks like your Calbuzzers aren’t the only ones to look askance at the excessive self-regard and blatantly over-the-top ambition to be governor that have marked the early days in office of Attorney General Kamala (Landslide) Harris.

” So far, there is plenty of evidence that she’s running. Her inauguration lasted almost twice as long as Jerry Brown’s swearing-in, and she promised much more,” writes the Sacbee’s ace editorial columnist Dan Morain. “It’s heady to be a contender for governor, maybe the front-runner. Harris has the talent to rise. But first, she needs to tend to the job she has and leave foreign policy to her pal in the White House…”

Calbuzz Rescues Inaugural from Crashing Boredom

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Calbuzz staff psychiatrist Dr. P.J. Hackenflack greatly enhanced his reputation as the Perle Mesta of California Monday night, as he tossed the toughest-ticket bash of Inaugural Week, featuring fine cuisine and libation, fine fellowship and the brightest stars in the state’s glittering political firmament.

In a political social whirl otherwise dominated by an event where the big payoff was a couple of dogs and a small bag of chips, Calbuzz party organizers agreed with each other that their gathering of First Amendment scumbags and rapacious consultants was by far the best shindig of the week.

Unfortunately for the good Doctor H., he missed his own soiree, after passing out cold beneath a banquet room table from rapidly throwing down 13 or 14  double Jamesons on the rocks several hours before his guests arrived.

Still, the 90 or so revelers who were actually conscious for the big party, held at fabulous Lucca restaurant (plenty of valet parking), did their best to overcome their disappointment at his absence, dining on smoked chicken risotto, chicken saltimbocca, pan roasted salmon and grilled bistro steak, consuming mass quantities of Ray Station Merlot, Kendall Jackson Chardonnay and Camelot Cabernet, and enjoying an evening utterly bereft of the tedious, mind-numbing speechifying that characterizes most such events in Sacramento.

Plus, they got a really cool credential — the type which the skinflint Brown operation provided to no one covering his big day.

Consistent with the post-post-partisan values and ethics of Calbuzz — which hold that folks of differing political persuasions are to view their rivals not as bitter enemies, but as nutty neighbors — Republican operatives like Adam Mendelsohn, Jim Brulte, Kevin Spillane, Marty Wilson, Beth Miller and Julie Soderlund (special kudos to Rob Stutzman and Mitch Zak for being the only ex-members of the GOP’s Legions of eMeg with the stones to show up) mixed and mingled with leading Democratic lights, including Tom Quinn, David Townsend, Joe Trippi, Donna Bojarsky, Jim Moore, Steve Glazer, Jason Kinney, Roger Salazar, Steve Maviglio, Karen Skelton  and Garry South (whose frequent harsh criticisms of Jerry Brown’s campaign for governor make him an intraparty marked man, matched Stutz and Zak’s raw courage in taking his place  at the festivities), while other hacks (widely suspected of  RINO tendencies by some in the Neanderthal Caucus) including Jack Flanigan, Bob Naylor, Donna Lucas and Don Sipple, added to a gemutlicht ambience of general hilarity.

Along with members of the Capitol press corps that Calbuzz actually knows (apologies to Sactown hacks we don’t know), world-class media types, including New York Times L.A. bureau chief Adam Ngourney, by-God L.A. Times sage George Skelton and national political correspondent Mark Barabak, A.P. political writers Juliet Williams and Judy Lin and KCRA-TV’s inimitable Kevin Riggs sprinkled the crowd, as Greg Lucas of “California’s Capitol,” Joel Fox of “Fox and Hounds” and Torey Van Oot of “Capitol Alert” ably represented the political blogosphere and blindingly insightful eggheads and policy makers like Dan Schnur, H.D. Palmer, Dave Lesher, Nancy McFadden and Peter Schrag raised the average I.Q. of the room at least a point or two.

Here stood newly sworn-in governor Brown, huddling with newly named Resources Secretary John Laird over matters of apparent great urgency.

There was new First Lady Anne Gust, explaining to an astonished inaugural witness how she was surprised to find out she was introducing her husband about two minutes before his swearing in.

Across the room,  almost Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom passionately held forth on the insider intricacies of San Francisco politics that have delayed his swearing in (see Agnos, Art and his five votes).

We even have a boozy recollection of overhearing Krusty and the Prince dividing up the world: Gavin focuses on economic development and UC and stays out of Jerry’s way as he tries to run the government. Such a deal.

Worried Democrats meanwhile kept an anxious eye on Brown, lest he keel over and make incumbent Lite Gov Abel Maldonado a full-term governor before Newsom takes the oath of office.

A good time was had by all, except for the aforementioned, utterly plastered Dr. H. There were no injuries.

Inaugural: Brown Urges Loyalty to the Community

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Jerry Brown’s inaugural address was a political homily that invoked a pioneer philosopher and his own ancestors’ journey westward to argue that California’s only way forward from chronic gridlock and fiscal morass is “loyalty to the community.”

After taking the oath as the state’s 39th governor, Brown not only offered an unvarnished look at the intractable political and economic condition of California but also pledged to confront these challenges without flinching.

“Choices have to be made and difficult decisions taken,” he said. “At this stage of my life (a refrain from his campaign commercials), I have not come here to embrace delay or denial.”

Having set low expectations for his address, Brown soared over them, as he delivered a 16-minute speech that was interrupted 14 times for applause by a crowd of supporters and elected officials packed into Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium. Long known for his disdain for self-discipline and tradition, Brown displayed a serious and, at times, formal style as he shocked pundits and political hacks alike by showing up on time and actually speaking from a printed text.

Alternately sober, funny and inspiring, his elegant speech made a post-post-partisan appeal for a commitment to shared sacrifice that transcends politics. Brown recalled the courage and values with which his great-grandfather August Schuckman survived his arduous 1852 wagon train journey to the Golden State, saying that “the people of California have not lost their pioneering spirit or their capacity to meet life’s challenges.”

“It is not just my family, but every Californian is heir to some form of powerful tradition, some history of overcoming challenges much more daunting than the ones we face today,” he said. “From the native people who survived the total transformation of their way of life, to the most recent arrival, stories of courage abound. And it is not over.”

The 72-year-old Brown reportedly wrote the speech himself and was introduced by his wife and closest adviser, Anne Gust Brown. In it, he acknowledged the state faces dire circumstances, but insisted that California remains, as Cary McWilliams labeled it, “the Great Exception.”

The state’s rich and vibrant history demonstrates how the outsized energy, imagination and innovation of its people provide a legacy of hope that will outstrip the blight of recession, joblessness and chronic budget crisis, Brown said, as he summoned the beliefs of Josiah Royce, born in1855 in a mining camp that later became Grass Valley.

“We can overcome the sharp divisions that leave our politics in perpetual gridlock, but only if we reach into our heart and find that loyalty, that devotion to California above and beyond our narrow perspectives,” Brown said.

The new governor connected Royce’s “philosophy of  loyalty” to the problems of today, which he insisted can only be surmounted if the politics of polarization and deadlock of recent years are set aside in favor of a commitment to the common good:

“Without the trust of the people, politics degenerates into mere spectacle and democracy declines, leaving demagoguery and cynicism to fill the void,” he said, pivoting to the specific issues he and the Legislature now face.

“The year ahead will demand courage and sacrifice. The budget I propose will assume that each of us who are elected to do the people’s business will rise above ideology and partisan interest and find what is required for the good of California. There is no other way forward. In this crisis we simply have to learn to work together as Californians first, members of a political party second.”

His presentation was not without its humorous notes. As Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye swore him in, the crowd murmured a laugh at the notion that he was taking the oath “without mental reservation” at which point Brown smiled, looked to the audience and said “really – no mental reservation.”

He later noted that he was not only following his father’s footsteps, but “my own” as well. And when he introduced his 99-year old Aunt Connie Carlson he warned those who are “hankering after my job, it may be a while. God willing, the genes are good.”

But it was passion and seriousness of purpose that set the tone for most of his address:

“This is a time to honestly assess our financial condition and to make the tough choices. And as we do, we will put our public accounts in order, investments in the private sector will accelerate and our economy will produce new jobs just as it has done after each of the other ten recessions since World War II.”

While hopeful rhetoric filled much of his speech, he also touched on some specific issues that he highlighted during the campaign:

Budget: In confronting the immediate challenge of a $28 billion budget deficit, Brown said he would work to forge a strategy in line with the basic principles he set forth in the campaign:

“First, speak the truth. No more smoke and mirrors on the budget. No empty promises. Second, no new taxes unless the people vote for them. Third, return – as much as possible – decisions and authority to cities and counties and schools.”

Energy: Brown echoed his call during the race for new forms and expanded use of alternative forms of energy:

“As Californians we can be proud that our state leads the rest of the country in our commitment to new forms of energy and energy efficiency. I have set a goal if 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020 and I intend to meet it by the appointments I make and the actions they take.

Education: Despite his concern for the state’s budget woes, Brown promised to public schools a centerpiece of his efforts to lead a comeback for the state.

“Aside from economic advance, I want to make sure that we do everything we can to ensure that our schools are places of real learning. Our budget problem is dire but after years of cutback, I am determined to enhance our public schools so that our citizens of the future have the skills, the zest and the character to keep California up among the best.”

Returning to his philosophical tone at the end of his address, Brown noted that “many of these issues have confronted California one way or another for decades, certainly since the time of Earl Warren.”

“I have thought a lot about this and it strikes me that what we face together as Californians are not so much problems but rather conditions, life’s inherent difficulties. A problem can be solved or forgotten but a condition always remains. It remains to elicit the best from each of us and show us how we depend on one another and how we have to work together.”

Brown’s speech was a big hit with politicians sitting in the front row at Memorial Auditorium – almost none of whom matter in Sacramento.

Outgoing governor Arnold Schwarzenegger pronounced the speech “fantastic.” Former Gov. Gray Davis said Brown offered the right mix of realism and inspiration. U. S. Senator Dianne Feinstein agreed with the notion of giving responsibility and authority back to local government.

And the guy who mattered most, Senate Democratic Leader Darrell Steinberg, predicted that he’d be able to push Brown’s plans for the budget and taxes through the Legislature without going to a vote right away.

Five Key Questions About Krusty’s Inaugural

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

As the Calbuzz National Affairs Desk braved torrential rains and terrific hangovers to lurch into Sacramento for today’s inauguration of Jerry Brown as California’s 39th governor*, one key question kept bothering us: Why are we doing this?

True, there’s value in being able to tell the grandkids we were eyewitnesses to history, as Krusty becomes the longest-toothed person ever to be sworn in (“ooh. that’s sooooo interesting, grandpa”). Plus, it’s been years since we had a really good look at the fascinating state Railroad Museum (plenty of free parking!) And, of course, there’s no way we’d allow staff psychiatrist Dr. P.J. Hackenflack to hit the mean streets of River City without a bevy of  sober-minded chaperones.

As a political matter, however, the plain fact is that Brown’s big day is unlikely to make much news or include major surprises, let alone justify the obscene expense accounts of the uncounted hundreds of executives, producers, directors, reporters, editors, photographers, graphic artists, web hotshots, roadies and tech team members whom we’ve dispatched for our special “Inauguration of the Old Guy” coverage.

The days are long since past when a governor could unveil a bold and uplifting agenda of sweeping new proposals, given the state’s recession-riddled economy and spirit-sucking financial woes.

No matter how ambitious Brown’s personal imagination and future vision may be, the one and only thing that matters now is how he intends to muck out the grungy stable of state budget mess – exactly the same old boring problem that befuddled outgoing Governor Schwarzmuscle, which Capitol pundits and scribes have been trying to invent new ways to make interesting for decades.

But, hey, that’s why they pay us the big bucks.

In any case, the Orange Bowl aside, there ain’t much else to occupy a couple of retired geezers on the first Monday in January. So here’s our look at the five crucial questions about today’s big doings:

1-Will Brown break his own record for brevity? In his first-ever inaugural, back when mastodons roamed the earth, Gandalf famously delivered a seven-minute address, still the shortest in history, with nearly no money quotes. As Bruce Newman reported in an excellent Murky News profile, “We have a lot of work to do – let’s get to it,” was about as good as it got in the soaring rhetoric department.

This time out, Brown is not so much throwing out the first pitch of a new administration as he is walking in from the bullpen in the bottom of the 17th to face a bases-loaded, nobody out, bloody mess that the last guy left him. So what is there to say, really? “There’s a lot of red ink to mop up. So let’s get to it and start defying the laws of arithmetic.” Eight seconds flat.

The longest riff we expect: The actual words he has to say to take the oath of office.

One more thing: What time will the chronically late Brown show up for his own inaugural? Calbuzz took the over – 15 minutes or more – in a high stakes bet with one of his staffers.

2-What’s he got to say about taxes? Brown and the Legislature are facing a pair of fundamentally awful choices: Slashing services and benefits for widows, orphans and sad-eyed little school kids or trying to squeeze more blood out of the great masses of cranky taxpayers and businesses.

The basic strategic play is clear: 1) Jam through a really, really ugly budget plan in the next 60 days – cats and dogs living together; fourth graders sent to sweat shops to sew tank tops and yoga pants for the rich; millions of lame, sick and foreclosed-upon shuffling through city streets; plague-infested rats streaming through shuttered parks as untended wildfires incinerate eight-figure four-level coastal homes; legions of violent knife-wielding felons suddenly sprung from state prison; bedraggled public employees asked to give up their fifth week of paid vacation, and worse. 2) Try to leverage this image of the Centre of Hell into a couple of ballot measures that win voters’ permission for some, at least, temporary tax hikes, perhaps coupled with a smart “realignment” proposal to push programs out of Sacramento and back to locals.

Sounds like a plan. But how to sell it to an electorate that’s dead certain there are countless oodles of money stashed in vaults beneath the Capitol? Does Brown start shedding political capital and delivering tough love news from the get-go, or wait and hope that the economy rebounds at least a little and then start speaking the T word? Inquiring minds want to know.

3-Will he actually eat a hot dog? The closest thing to a public celebration of Krusty’s ascension is the afternoon picnic in Capitol Park sponsored by the Orange County Labor Council, which promises a fine menu of burgers, dogs and chips.

Does Brown risk dropping by and having his picture taken with several thousand giddy union goons? And if he goes, will he indulge in the blue-collar cuisine? Asked it about last week, the governor-elect responded with an 11th hour entry for the 2010 quote of the year contest, telling the Sacbee that he’s “not a normal hamburger or hot dog man.” Talk about the understatement of the century.

4-Will he mention the California dream? Big picture, the new governor’s first and biggest challenge is to forge a sense of common purpose among Sacramento’s bitterly polarized and gridlocked  solons and special interests.

Clearly, it won’t be sufficient to employ, you know, logic on the Legislature’s dunderheads, who’d rather keep chanting brain dead ideological cant and slogans. So he needs to find a way of selling shared sacrifice for everyone in a way that goes over their heads and effectively appeals to their constituents.

During the campaign, the closest he came to doing that with even a shred of sincerity was when he talked about his family’s long history in state politics and invoked the California Dream.  Time to embellish that bit of rhetoric.

5-What time will he get home? In his first turn as governor, Brown was known to make the rounds, from the sadly departed David’s Brass Rail to the Torch Club, or head south for Lucy’s El Adobe or to some Laurel Canyon soiree with wing man Jacques Barzaghi.

Now that he’s married to the formidable Anne Gust Brown, however, he insists that he’ll turn in early, as more befits a magisterial figure of his advanced years: “I now have a wife,” he said during a debate with Meg Whitman. “I come home at night. I don’t try to close down the bars in Sacramento like I used to do when I was governor of California.”

Amid all the debate about whether Anne will act as Brown’s de facto chief of staff, one thing’s for sure: if his teeth are brushed, his prayers are said and he’s all tucked in by nine o’clock tonight, don’t bet against her chances.

* Or is this the third term of the 34th governor?