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Archive for 2011



The Sad Spectacle of Pete Wilson Taking a Dive

Friday, August 26th, 2011

What a sorry disappointment, seeing Pete Wilson behaving like a low-rent political hack at an age when he ought to be a senior statesman.

The former governor, who turned 78 this week, has foolishly let himself be drawn into the desperate rear guard effort by state GOP apparatchiks to undo the state Senate districts drawn by the independent redistricting commission.

In doing so, this former advocate for a redistricting process free of partisan influence has become one of the Crybaby Republicans who don’t like the results and now demand a do-over for strictly partisan purposes.

Thanks to Patrick McGreevy’s scooplet of the week, the world now knows that Wilson signed a five-page fundraising pitch to “several thousand potential donors,” pleading for cash to help finance a dead-ender referendum aimed at repealing the commission’s new Senate plan and throwing it into the courts.

“The state Senate lines drawn by the California Redistricting Commission virtually guarantee a Democrat Super-majority in the California State Senate in 2012,” the mailer added. “A successful drive to put a referendum on the June 2012 ballot is the best way to prevent this from happening.”

Say it ain’t so, Pete.

The invention of indoor plumbing:  Wilson can be a prickly guy, but even if we didn’t get all warm and fuzzy when he walked into a room, we had respect for him when we covered him, back before electricity and indoor plumbing were invented.

With the very notable exception of his anything-to-win sponsorship of Prop. 187 (which, unfortunately for him, will be the main thing he’s remembered for), Wilson was an old-school governor who understood the importance of compromise. A classic California moderate Republican, he put ideas ahead of ideology, flipping off the right-wing witch burners with his support for abortion rights, cutting a ballsy deal with Willie Brown on cuts and taxes when he came into office and found state finances circling the drain, exercising leadership on environmental issues, well before it was fashionable.

So it wasn’t a big surprise when he stood next to then-Governor Schchwarzmuscle four years ago, cheek-by-jowl with Gray Davis, in a tableau of goo-goo bipartisanship, the three of them earnestly endorsing the need to “give an independent commission the authority to draw district boundaries,”  an event that turned out to be the first shot of the campaign for the redistricting reform measure that would become Proposition 11.

Now that Prop. 11 has become law, however, and that commission has drawn an electoral map without regard to partisan fear or favor, GOP extremists who’ve grown fat and happy perched in safe gerrymandered seats are suddenly in a panic, realizing that their just-say-no ideology is a non-starter in fresh  political terrain that accurately reflects the politics of California.

It’s telling that Charlie Cook, the Washington-based master of nuts and bolts politics, recently cited California’s new redistricting process as a reform that could offer some hope of breaking the nation’s ritual gerrymandering-polarization political cycle.

Most of us are also wondering: How do we get out of this mess?

Notoriously ungovernable California may be the last place that most people inside the Beltway would look for solutions – but, shockingly, it is worth watching this year. At first, many derided the state’s new Citizens Redistricting Commission, set up by ballot amendment in 2008, as an amateur-hour boondoggle. But after the panel of 14 average citizens, which was barred from factoring in political data and was completely unaccountable to politicians, did its work, California is on the verge of passing a map with much more politically heterogeneous districts.

Partisans who control most states have an incentive to make districts even more polarized, but California’s new districts and ‘top-two’ primary system could produce a few more incumbents with an incentive to compromise. So far, equal numbers of Democratic and Republican officeholders hate the way this experiment is going. Sounds promising.

Wilson’s shameful spectacle: Here’s what Wilson told a crowd in Santa Monica in 2009, in one of those public “conversation” things with Joe Mathews:

“There are Republicans who are forever happy to be in the minority. They don’t have to govern. They can be sort of bomb throwers.”

But today, we find Wilson throwing in with those very folks he criticized for not caring about governance.

Public interest aside, by supporting their foot-stomping little temper tantrum, Wilson is doing a disservice to his own party by enabling the extremists to cling to the delusion that they don’t have to change, that if they just keep on repeating the same outdated, discredited, bumper sticker cant, it will finally dawn on those dumb voters that they’ve been right – we’re right! –all along.

For shame, governor.

‘Massive’ Quake Hits Eastern Elites; Egos Shaken

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

If you have friends in devastated Christchurch, NZ (as we do), or relatives who survived the killer quake in Santiago, Chile (as we do) or if you lived through the deadly Loma Prieta earthquake in the Bay Area (as we did), Monday’s narcissistic hysteria among the Eastern Establishment Media about the little 5.8 tremor that rolled through Washington was more than a little offensive.

No serious injuries or deaths. No widespread damage or dangers. Roads, buildings, bridges, power plants, railroad tracks, runways, homes – all virtually untouched.  And we’re glad for that. But give us a freaking break! Anchors and correspondents for CNN and MSNBC went nuts. (Fox, btw, was the least wacko of the cable nets: “Some buildings shook. It scared some people. And it’s over.” — Shepard Smith.)

While rebels who had taken over Tripoli were hunting for Moammar Gadhafi and the stock market was shooting up 322 points, all the self-absorbed East Coast media were concerned about was their pissant earthquake (“massive” according to Wolf Blitzer).

With all the build-up, the headline we expected to see was something like this: MASSIVE QUAKE: Ceiling Tiles Fall, Press Conference Interrupted, Dozens Nervous!

(For a little context, see the, um, representative  photo above, which was all over the internet Tuesday but actually was posted more than a year ago after a teeny earthquake in Maryland).

All the heavy breathing was just another object lesson in why the country is so ill-served by writers, broadcasters, editors and analysts who seem unable to focus on anything outside of the view of their beltway blinders.

Which reminds us of the prescient observation on the Republican presidential race by George Will in May of this year: “I think people are complaining that this is not off to a brisk start, I think that’s wrong. I think we know with reasonable certainty that standing up there on the west front of the Capitol on Jan. 20, 2013 will be one of three people: Obama, Pawlenty and Daniels. I think that’s it.”

Or, as the master humorist of our day put it in a tweet:

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One other exceptional tweet, from our friend Mike (Pass the Cash) Murphy:

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Another Shocker: Young Calbuzzer Sees Hope for California

It ain’t exactly end-of-summer beach reading, but state political junkies should definitely take a look at “A New California Dream,” the latest in the ever-expanding Whither-the-Golden State genre.

The book is penned by Patrick Atwater,  the most unfailingly cheerful member  of the prestigious Calbuzz College of Frequent Commenters (and most likely youngest too – no coincidence there), whose singular essays on this page consistently reflect an attractive brand of communitarian idealism, if not a thoroughly misguided belief in the perfectibility of man.

In search of solutions to its chronic dysfunctions, Atwater takes a stroll through the state’s history, crafting a nice, well-paced narrative that explores the political, economic and psychological underpinnings of the California Dream – and the harsh hard times that keep smashing up against it.

The basic problem with these myths is that they create a dream beyond this world that cannot but clash with the realities of living in it. So why don’t we come together to build a New California Dream – one freed from this sort of absurd utopianism – that is pragmatically focused on bettering the lives of all Californians?

Why not indeed?

Patrick is erudite and well-read, and appears to have consumed every worthwhile volume about California that’s been written, variously referencing not only Carey McWilliams, Robinson Jeffers and the Beach Boys but also Kevin Starr, Walt Whitman and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

And he’s a good writer, except for an occasional clunker guaranteed to stop a reader dead in her tracks:

This teleology is this synthesis of the ostensibly irreconcilable poles of California as naturally perfect and California as perfected through technology and the hand of man.

Medic! I need a copy editor here, stat!

While we didn’t highlight and annotate the book with the monkish discipline of medieval scholars, we did spend the better part of afternoon with it. So maybe we missed something, but we were left wanting more, more, more on the solutions side of the ledger.

True, Atwater makes the best and most extended case for a constitutional convention that we’ve seen. Sure, count us in, but the sad and sorry story of how Bay Area Council chief Jim Wonderman’s bid to qualify an initiative to convene such an historic event crashed and burned, as his corporate masters  looked on indifferently and withheld financing for a campaign, is a realpolitik case study of just how hard it is to make bold changes in the status quo.

It’s not surprising that the “What We Can Do” section of “A New California Dream” consists of one page of specific prescriptions, which include volunteering in the schools, doing community service or getting active in a reform organization like Think Long, California Forward, Common Cause or Atwater’s own nascent online effort, OurCali.com.

Bottom line, it’s a real epic chore to devise and implement rational, pragmatic and effective solutions to what ails California at a time when one of its major political parties a) thinks ideology is far more important than ideas; b) finds the very notion of political compromise repugnant; and c) isn’t even all that keen about science.

Then again, we’re just a couple of caterwauling old cockers, and it’s uplifting to see a smart, caring and thoughtful guy like Atwater so committed to improving conditions in the state where his family has lived for four generations.

Calbuzz sez: check it out.

Calbuzz – political web site to the stars: In case you’ve been wondering, last Saturday’s $25 gazillion wedding of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries in Montecito, center of the political universe, generated 21 calls to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s office from pissed off locals, including:

-7 calls for loud music
-7 calls related to the helicopters
-2 calls related to trespassers
-2 calls related to traffic issues
-3 calls relating to the paparazzi

There were no injuries


Why Perry, Romney Must Come to CA’s GOP Confab

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Now that Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul have signed up to speak to next month’s California Republican Party convention in Los Angeles, it’s time for Mitt Romney and Rick Perry to get in on the action. Here’s why:

1. Get some great free media. Los Angeles offers an enormous opportunity for free media exposure, not only in the city but throughout the Southern California region and, for that matter, nationwide. Speaking to a monster audience of Republicans and news media in Los Angeles (just after the debate at the Reagan Library) guarantees coverage that would cost many millions to buy.

2. California may actually matter. If, by June, the top tier remains Bachmann, Perry and Romney (and assuming that Paul is still in the game), then winning the California GOP presidential primary in June, with proportional representation by congressional district, could net a campaign an enormous cache of delegates – about 170 are at stake – that might prove pivotal in securing the nomination.

3. Don’t insult the troops. This is the largest state Republican Party in the United States. Some 1,000 members – many of them ferociously committed activists – will be attending. If #2 (above) proves to be true, presidential campaigns will need these folks in the field for them in June. But the candidates who don’t show up in Los Angeles will basically be telling this huge contingent of potential campaign volunteers to go fuck themselves.

As California GOP Chairman Tom Del Beccaro told Calbuzz (a bit more diplomatically): “A huge portion of the Republican volunteers and activists in the state will be there and they should be courted.” Exactly.

Remember, in 2008, Romney ran pretty well in California, pulling 35% of the GOP primary vote compared to John McCain, who took 42%. But Romney only won in three counties – Fresno, Sierra and Shasta. And he would up with just 12 delegates while McCain took 158.

A candidate with volunteers and organization spread around in a variety of congressional districts, might well pick up a lot more delegates.

In 2008, evangelical Christians made up about 1/3 of the electorate and a plurality of them supported Romney over McCain, according to exit polls. But with Bachmann and Perry in the race, that contingent of voters is genuinely up for grabs. Likewise, those who said illegal immigrants should be deported, who voted 2-1 for Romney, might also be in play.

This is an electorate that, over the years, has picked standard-bearers like Bruce Herschensohn, Dan Lungren and Carly Fiorina. To voters like these Perry and Bachmann could be viable options – which ought to suggest to Romney and Perry that they’d better not flip off all those activists.

We’re just sayin.’

It only seems like he’s been around forever: Abel Maldonado turned 44 yesterday (Happy, happy, bro) and while your favorite fossils at Calbuzz are in no position to talk, that certainly seems like an age that’s way too advanced to be characterized as a “young” anything.

Nonetheless, where do we find ole Abel, but halfway down the list of “Republican Young Guns,” the GOP establishment’s top picks for horses to back in open and competitive House races next year.

The sheer silliness of the label aside (and what a fine message to send Our Youth about the overweening importance of firearms in American politics!), the National Republican Congressional Committee elected two-thirds of its 92 designated YGers last fall.

With the GOP thus having succeeded in winning the House, Maldo is one of only 23 GOP contenders handpicked by the NRCC this time out. He’s trying to end the career of veteran Democratic Representative Lois Capps, who’s seen a once-comfortable voter registration edge in her Central Coast district whacked to single digits by redistricting.

Maldo’s Beltway backing makes it all but certain that the equally redistricting-challenged Republican state Senator Sam Blakeslee, who briefly sniffed around a possible congressional bid, won’t be jumping into this race which, as we’ve reported, is drawing national attention.

Among other things, Maldonado is backed by Karl Rove, with whom he has a longstanding relationship; Rove’s support showed up early when one of his secretly-funded independent committees paid for a substantial early TV buy attacking Capps. She’s also the only Californian among the NRCC’s Top 10 Democratic early targets, a distinction that last week generated a barrage of robo-calls into her district; financed by the GOP campaign committee, they blamed her for unemployment, higher gas and grocery prices and widespread home foreclosures.

No word yet on the guy with the umbrella near the grassy knoll.

How Obama’s playing in Santa Cruz: Longtime Calbuzzer Cliff Barney forwards this video report from a sylvan caucus of progressive activists in Santa Cruz last month that’s notable for at least two reasons: 1) the up-close-and-personal expressions of disappointment, anger and betrayal among lefties who feel Obama sold them out to Wall Street after they, as one puts it, “worked our hearts out” for him in 2008; 2) the bottom line reality that, despite their fond hope, there’ll be no primary challenge against the president, so they have nowhere else to go in 2012, a point that Obama adviser David Axelrod smugly made in response to a question from filmmaker Michael Moore on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

Maybe so, but after listening to these folks, it’s hard to imagine that either of two keys to Obama’s victory — voter intensity and the expansion of the electorate – are going to be easy to game this time. And that should be a scary thought to Axelrod and his fellow geniuses.

He didn’t really say that, did he? Much of the unhappiness with Obama on the left has to do with specific policies – single payer health care, higher taxes on the wealthy, offshore oil drilling. What’s more troubling for the less ideologically inclined are the political wimpiness, conflict aversion and flat-out weakness of the guy.

On that point, we found these quotes, filed by Maureen Dowd while trailing Obama around the Midwest for a couple days, more than a little telling:

In Cannon Falls, Minn., the president compared negotiating with House Republicans to negotiating with his wife.

“In my house,” Obama noted, “if I said, ‘You know, Michelle, honey, we got to cut back, so we’re going to have you stop shopping completely. You can’t buy shoes; you can’t buy dresses; but I’m keeping my golf clubs.’ You know, that wouldn’t go over so well.”

In Decorah, he said: “Everybody cannot get 100 percent of what they want. Now, for those of you who are married, there is an analogy here. I basically let Michelle have 90 percent of what she wants. But, at a certain point, I have to draw the line and say, ‘Give me my little 10 percent.’ ”

Really? No wonder the GOP keeps cleaning his clock.