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Secret Battle on Pinocchio Hat; Flash Nixes Tax Vote

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Now it can be told: At a crucial point in the race for governor, an internal campaign debate among Jerry Brown’s top advisers broke out over a hard-hitting TV ad that portrayed Republican rival Meg Whitman as Pinocchio, Calbuzz has learned.

The key tactical question at stake in the behind-the-scenes political battle: Whether or not to put a little yellow Tyrolean hat with a golden feather on top of eMeg’s head in the spot.

We’re not making this up.

In a wide-ranging investigation, our Department of High-Impact Probes and Overstuffed File Cabinets ferreted out the story via a series of confidential interviews with High-Powered Political Sources.

Because of the extreme sensitivity of the matter, Calbuzz scrupulously applied Bob Woodward’s rules for wide-ranging investigations, promising our sources anonymity in exchange for their pledges of candor, with the agreement that we would tell the story in the omniscient third-person voice, with direct quotations more or less aligned with reality.

Sources gave this account:

Shortly after Labor Day, Whitman unleashed an ad with Bill Clinton hitting Brown on his most vulnerable soft spot saying he was a tax-and-spend liberal who could not be trusted. Brown compounded the problem by insulting Clinton’s proclivities at a public event. But after Brown apologized to Clinton for his loose lips, Elvis put out a statement saying the charge he’d made in the 1992 debate clip Whitman was using was in fact based on an erroneous CNN report.

Newspapers, TV and radio outlets and online sites all reported that the Whitman ad was simply not true. But eMeg stood by the ad, arguing that it was accurate. Brown’s people needed to say Whitman was lying — in the nicest possible way, of course.

No Relation to Steve Glazer

Their consensus on how to answer, suggested by adman David Doak, was a 15-second spot that pictured eMeg as Pinocchio, with her nose growing during the ad to the size of a baseball bat, as a narrator recounted some of the lies she was telling about Brown.*

The ad was quickly produced by Joe Trippi’s shop with the enthusiastic endorsement of candidate Brown (who to this day never tires of claiming credit for it, or of confronting complete strangers to demand they tell him whether they saw it during the campaign) through the use of not-very-sophisticated graphics technology that made Meg’s nose get longer and longer.

Then the trouble began.

When the media team turned in the ad, alarm bells went off in the head of campaign manager Steve Glazer. He was deeply troubled by one crucial detail: was placing the little yellow hat on Meg’s head too demeaning to her?

Demeaning?” one source who liked the ad replied to Glazer’s question. “Steve, we’re making her nose grow four feet – how could it be more demeaning than that?”

Still, when Glazer’s concern was communicated to Brown and his wife, Anne Gust, Brown’s Oakland command ordered up another version of the spot that did not have the little hat on Meg’s head.

“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” one source thought to himself.

Nonetheless, alternative versions were produced, as the difficult question – hat or no hat – continued to divide Team Brown. Finally, a coast-to-coast conference call was convened, and the issue was put directly to Brown’s most senior media strategist.

“Do you think the hat is too demeaning?” he was asked.

Long seconds passed, while the fate of the entire Brown effort – along with the future of California – hung in the balance.

“No,” the Washington-based strategist said.

The rest is history.

The ad went on the air on September 14, and Meg’s negatives kept growing and growing, not unlike her Pinocchio nose, as Brown steadily built a lead. The most astonishing thing about the story may be that the Armies of Whitman did not issue a snarky statement about the hat — practically the only thing they didn’t whine about during the entire race.

* (For the record, the ad was actually kind of a rip-off of our oft-used Pinocchio-Meg graphic, not to mention totally derivative of a stock campaign ad that goes back to at least 1988).

Redeveloping redevelopment: Tom Meyer today nails the full-on absurdity of the outrage over the governor’s move to shutter the operations of local redevelopment agencies that’s being voiced by local political hacks and real estate developers across the state.

Armed with the new PPIC poll, which shows two-thirds of Californians agree with him on the issue, Brown is playing a strong political hand, notwithstanding the heavy breathing and harrumphing by a coalition of mayors who called on him this week to protest the long overdue bid to end the redevelopment scam of skimming property tax revenues for the purpose of empire building and skid greasing for way too many sleazy projects in which oleaginous developers and greedy politicians engage in mutual back scratching in an atmosphere of soft corruption.

Latest evidence of how we’ll all manage to do just fine without redevelopment’s ’50s- and ’60s-era land use theory and practice comes in a dandy piece by Jim Miller of the Press-Enterprise.

In an impressive display of Actual Reporting, Miller checked the mandated state reports filed by a batch of agencies and found they “list few, if any, jobs created and little in the way of new construction or building rehabilitation.” Best stuff: the hemming and hawing by officials desperate to explain away the story told by the very documents they filed themselves, including this gem from John Shirey, president of the (all rise) California Redevelopment Association:

Unfortunately, those reports often get filled out by finance people because most of the report is financial,” Shirey said. “Finance people, they’re not in sales. They don’t take advantage of the chance to put down accomplishments.

“If it doesn’t get picked up by the redevelopment staff, then you see what you see, which is a lot of blanks,” he said.

So we see.

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No-diversity university: Here’s how bad the sexism was at last weekend’s big Berkeley conference on the governor’s race: Even Calbuzz noticed.

Somewhere between the first panel, featuring eight white guys, and the final panel, featuring seven white guys, we took a demographic stroll through the lineups for all of the two days of presentations. Counting panelists and moderators, here are the stats:

31 men
5 women
34 white people
2 minorities

Apparently, we weren’t alone in raising our untrimmed eyebrows at the disconnect between the conference population and that of, you know,  California. Soon after the event ended, some pretty pissed off political women started posting this video on their Facebook pages, and it’s now careening far and wide across the internets.  More from the estimable Joe Garafoli.

Flash tells why Brown’s tax measure should not be on the ballot

In response to the post on Calbuzz last week arguing that lawmakers should place on the ballot Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to extend, for five years, certain tax increases that were passed in 2009, we asked our friend Jon Fleischman, editor and publisher of the conservative FlashReport (whom we likened to a feudal yeoman), to present the other side. Here’s his argument.

The main reason why legislators should not put a tax increase measure on the ballot is that raising taxes is a bad idea, and the idea of placing a measure before voters in essence plays “kick the can” for four or five months, when problems should be addressed now.

Based on the fact that voters rejected the last seven tax-increase measures before them, and in fact rejected these exact tax increases (but for a shorter duration) in a 2009 special election, the Legislature should not be going to the public again. This is a democratic republic, and our elected representatives should do their jobs.

It is also important to look at the politics of a special election on raising taxes. The reality is that all of the various special interest groups (with the state’s cash-heavy public employee unions at the front of the line) will spend literally tens of millions of dollars to influence voters.

It will be a full-scale effort to use any means possible to connive overtaxed Californians into taxing themselves even more. Unfortunately the ability of taxpayer protection groups to raise the kinds of funds it takes to seriously debunk the landslide of misleading ads is very limited. That is why it is critical to hold the line against a ballot measure at all costs.

An additional consideration for Republican legislators is that after seven years of Arnold Schwarzenegger being the top Republican in the state (we saw some of the effects of the impact of that this last November), we need to restore the brand name of the Grand Old Party. Once a party that voters knew would oppose higher taxes, now that message is unclear. Nothing could be more damaging to a party trying to regain relevance that to abandon such a core issue.

You can be absolutely certain that a well-financed campaign for those tax increases on a special election ballot would make a huge deal over the “bi-partisan cooperation” to place the tax increase before voters. It would completely undermine the ability of the minority party to make the case for making a change in who is in charge of the Capitol.

If the left wants the public to vote on higher taxes, they can qualify a ballot measure (the unions can do that with just a fraction of their campaign funds). But at least if they go that route, it will be made clear to voters that Republicans had no part in it.

PPIC: Voters Want Budget-Fix Taxes on the Ballot

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

A survey by the Public Policy Institute of California has found that two-thirds of likely voters say it’s a good idea to hold a special election on Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to extend fee and tax increases to help cover the state’s $25-billion budget deficit. More than half the voters say they’d support the measure.

The findings confirm private polling reported by Calbuzz last week that suggest the principal reason why conservative anti-tax jihadists don’t want to put Brown’s measure on the ballot is that they’re afraid it will pass.

According to PPIC, 66% of likely voters – including 73% of Democrats, 64% of independents and even 55% of Republicans – approve of putting Brown’s proposed extension of fees and taxes on the ballot.

Moreover, 54% of voters – 65% of Democrats, 60% of independents but just 37% of Republicans – favor the extension of personal income and sales taxes and vehicle license fees.

The survey also confirmed findings from polling by Jim Moore for the California Issues Forum that when the elements of Brown’s proposal are characterized as tax increases rather than extensions, voters recoil: 70% reject raising personal income taxes, 64% are against increasing sales taxes and 62% oppose increasing the vehicle license fee. The only tax increase with popular support – 55% — would be an increase in taxes paid by corporations. As we said last week, should Brown’s proposal make the ballot, the battle will be between those who call his plan an “extension” of taxes and those who call them tax “increases.”

In response to the part of Brown’s budget proposal that has generated the noisiest and most orchestrated blow-back, PPIC reported voters favored, by 63-26%, “phasing out funding for local redevelopment agencies and eliminating state tax benefits for enterprise zones in order to redirect that tax revenue to local governments for schools and other local services.”

[Coincidentally, Moore reported on Wednesday that another survey, just completed, found that by 73-20% voters favor Brown’s proposal to “eliminate local redevelopment agency programs that now use property tax revenues for development projects and instead use the money for schools, police and fire services.”  In both PPIC’s and Moore’s polls, Democrats (68% PPIC; 77% Moore) were even more supportive of eliminating redevelopment agencies than independents and Republicans.]

PPIC found that a slight plurality of voters – 45% — favor patching the state’s budget hole with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, compared to 41% who favor mostly spending cuts and just 8% who support mostly tax increases.

Yet when asked about specific budget areas, 62% of voters say they’d support higher taxes to maintain current funding for K-12 public education, 51% for higher education and 46% for health and human services. Just 14% would support increasing taxes to maintain funding of prisons and corrections.

PPIC reported that when read a description of Brown’s proposed budget, 58% of likely voters say they are generally satisfied, including 64% of Democrats, 57% of independents and even 49% of Republicans.

Nearly three-fourths of voters – 73% — favor the governor’s call to shift responsibility and funds to local governments for various programs now run by the state. The idea is popular across party lines and throughout the state.

On the other hand, only half the voters now support the idea of giving local jurisdictions the ability to pass increased taxes with a 55% vote instead of a 2/3 majority. There’s a partisan divide on that question, with Democrats in favor 61-32%, independents leaning 50-41% in favor and Republicans opposed 61-33%.

While they like his budget proposal, Brown’s approval rating among likely voters is just 47-20% favorable, with 33% undecided. That a third of the voters have no opinion suggests that the governor has done little to reach out beyond the state capital to sell his budget plan – a reflection of his decision to work with legislators and interests groups before turning to the public broadly.

PPIC also reported:

Californians are feeling better about the direction of the state and their own financial futures, but most are still not feeling good. A majority (54%) continue to say that things in California are going in the wrong direction. However, the share of those who see things going in the right direction—38 percent—is up 22 points since October and the highest percentage since September 2007. Most independents (58%) and a large majority of Republicans (81%) remain pessimistic about the direction of the state. But for the first time since September 2007, Democrats are more likely to say the state is going in the right direction (51%) than in the wrong one (39%).

Turning to economic conditions in California, a majority of adults (56%) expect bad times financially in the next 12 months. But the percentage expecting good times—36 percent—is up 11 points since October. Despite their sunnier view of the economic outlook, most (86%) still believe the state is in a recession, with 48 percent viewing it as a serious recession.

PPIC surveyed 2,004 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from January 11–18, 2011. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The margin of error is ±3.5 percent for all adults and ±4.2 percent for the 987 likely voters.

Lockyer: Both Parties Must Bend to Repair California

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, one of the most experienced and durable Democratic politicians in California, was the keynote speaker at the 2010 governor’s race post-mortem hosted by the Institute of Governmental Affairs at UC Berkeley. Here’s the text of his lucid prepared remarks, delivered Jan. 22, 2011 at the Hotel Shattuck Plaza in Berkeley.

By Bill Lockyer

Several years ago, Thomas Frank wrote a book titled “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”  The book was Mr. Frank’s attempt to explain, from his admittedly liberal perspective, the American heartland’s attraction to conservatism.

After the 2010 elections, I would not be surprised to see a conservative writer pen a book entitled “What’s the Matter with California?” in an attempt to explain how and why the Republican tidal wave broke at the California border. It’s a question worthy of exploration.

Why were the California results so unique?

There was a Democratic sweep of every statewide constitutional office; there was not a single loss of a California congressional or Senate seat held by Democrats; and there was a pick up of one Democratic seat in the Assembly.

My explanation starts with one counter-intuitive fact: The California results were not the result of some hyped-up turnout in the Democratic base or of a depressed Republican turnout. An examination of the actual election results, as opposed to the exit polls or post-election polling, shows that the 2010 turnout in every demographic group were within a percentage or two of the 2006 turnout . . . with a few exceptions.

One interesting exception was 18-24 year-old voters, who turned out at a 6.4 percentage points higher level than in 2006. And 25-34 year-old voters also improved their turnout by 3.6 percent. At the same time, Republicans increased their overall turnout by 3.6 percentage points and DTS (decline to state) voter participation expanded by 3.4 percent.

Exit polls in other states do show varying degrees of higher turnout among Republican base voters along with some depressed numbers in the Democratic base. But, in California, we simply had a decent turnout among all voters.

So, if turnout doesn’t explain California’s Democratic exceptionalism, what does?

I believe California has a structural firewall that protected Democrats against the Republican “shellacking”.

Democrats continue to win substantial majorities of women, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, younger voters, gay and lesbian voters, coastal voters, liberals, and college educated voters. You combine that coalition with the majority of “moderate” and DTS voters who express their preference for Democratic candidates in almost every election and you have to ask: “Who the hell is left to vote for the Republicans?”

Simply answered, Republicans are the party of older white voters from inland California, a base too small to win in 21st Century California. These demographics have been with us for 20 years now and show no sign of changing.

This electoral reality deeply impacts how we govern in California. The shrinking Republican Party is so dominated by conservative voters that competitive Republican primaries damage Republican nominees who have to work their way through the litmus test minefield of taxes, immigration, abortion, gay rights, and the environment, and let’s not forget the “John and Ken primary ” test.

Remember, the most successful Republican candidate in recent years, Arnold Schwarzenegger, never ran in a competitive Republican Primary.

For Democrats, the challenge is not how we put together a successful campaign coalition, but how we govern successfully. And, for Democrats, at this moment in history the challenge of governing is how do we restore fiscal reality to our state budget and, at the same time, grow our state’s economy.

Democrats run for public office because we believe that government should play an active role in improving the lives of its citizens. Very few Democrats run for office because they want to shrink the size of government.

In 2011, and beyond, Democrats will have to defer their historic ideological mission for another time and accept the responsibility of cutting government spending now. This duty will inevitably put a Democratic governor, Democratic constitutional officers, and a Democratic legislature at odds with some Democratic constituencies and interest groups.

And, these Democratic elected officials cannot shrink from this responsibility.

California voters overwhelmingly have chosen Democrats to lead them out of this economic crisis and, if we fail, the political consequences in future elections will be profound.

Gov. Brown has opened this debate by coming forward with an honest budget based on real numbers, free of phony accounting gimmicks. Its basic premise is that half of the answer to erasing the deficit should come from cuts in spending and half should come by extending taxes that are scheduled to expire. This is both sound policy and good politics.

As political leaders and as voters, if we do not support and follow this path and close our budget deficit, the consequences will be profound and Draconian.

The question is: How does our legislature respond?

Our inability to create bi-partisan compromises in our state’s budget has resulted in an endless shell game that has mired California in a persistent and ever-growing budget deficit. Too often the expedient has trumped the prudent.

Democrats must prove that they are willing to make substantial cuts in government spending to have credibility in this debate with voters and with Republican colleagues. The fact is that voters are likely to reject (again) the governor’s call to extend expiring taxes unless they see real budget cuts passed by the legislature.

Republicans must begin to participate fully in the governing of California and Democrats should welcome their participation. If Republicans fail in their responsibility, they will continue to be a shrinking minority party.

Republicans must negotiate with the governor and their Democratic colleagues in good faith and take the litmus tests off the table. This will begin to make the Republican Party relevant to the future of California.

To my Republican friends, I ask a simple question: “What good has all the political posturing done for the Republican Party?” When you can’t make political progress in California during a national Republican landslide, it is time to try a new approach.

No Relation to Grover Norquist

When Grover Norquist, a professional anti-tax activist based in D.C., demands every California Republican legislator sign a no tax pledge, a pledge that he insists includes denying the people the right to vote on the path forward, we really are in the Twilight Zone.

If Republicans are hostages to their litmus test politics, they won’t be at the table that works out the budget fix. Republican voices and ideas will not be a part of the solution.

Now, let’s talk about the “elephant” in the room. Democrats cannot expect Republicans to commit political suicide in order to pass a budget. That is why Democrats must be prepared to negotiate with Republicans on spending cuts that last as long as the tax hike extensions. Should either party come out of budget negotiations declaring victory, California will be the loser.

Democrats and Republicans can choose another way. Together, we can turn California around.

Fifty years ago this week, in his 1961 inaugural address, John F. Kennedy spoke words, in another context, that apply to this day and this time.

“United, there is little we cannot do. Divided, there is little we can do.”

Final Thoughts on IGS 2010 Gov Race Conference

Monday, January 24th, 2011

In the end, the weekend conference on California’s just-concluded campaign for governor looked a lot like the race itself: Meg Whitman refused to talk to an audience not of her choosing, got trashed for it and ended up the biggest loser for her selfish and self-absorbed behavior.

The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies confab, held every four years, drew its largest crowd ever, an eclectic collection of media and political hacks, earnest students and academic chrome domes, professional pollsters and political wannabes, all drawn by the opportunity to hear, first-hand from the operatives who ran the campaigns, the inside story of how the deal went down.

Beyond its sheer entertainment value for an audience of obsessed political junkies, the conference in the past also served the more serious purpose of establishing a permanent record of the process by which Californians chose their chief executive, an important resource for scholars, authors and journalists. But the 2011 version was unfortunately flawed by two big shortcomings:

First, not a single member of the mighty Legions of eMeg had the courage, concern for history, not to mention common courtesy, to show his or her face; despite heroic efforts to represent the Republican perspective by top-rank GOP pols who didn’t work on the campaign (about whom more later) this left a huge hole in the record, given that Herself and Her Money, in many ways, became the story of the campaign.

Second, there was way too much spin and way too little candor by too many of those who did participate – an unfortunate departure from past years, which will leave a distorted and incomplete record of what was one of the most important campaigns in recent decades: “It just wasn’t the real story of the campaign,” one prominent political scientist complained at a post-conference reception. (Suggested reading for future scholars: this and this.)

That said, there still was value in the event, even if it was often to be found in the bar of the Hotel Shattuck Plaza and around the tables of nearby Berkeley restaurants, where war stories and unvarnished opinions were more frequently to be found. Some observations:

Most Valuable Player – The MVP of the conference was Jim Bognet, manager of Steve Poizner’s losing GOP primary effort. Funny, smart and honest, Bognet offered a sense of what it was like day-after-day to go up against a rival funded by $180 million (Meg’s spending “created its own center of gravity”) and displayed how personal the battle got between the Republicans (“never was so much spent on so many for so little”). He also provided – in the form of advice to students in the room thinking about going into politics — the best single riff of the weekend, defining the ethical rot at the center of Team Whitman that led to the most expensive disaster in the history of American politics:

When you’re getting paid a lot of money – and there were many consultants in this race that got paid a lot of money – it gives you an incentive not to speak truth to power. It gives you an incentive not to tell them what they don’t want to hear as candidates. You are more valuable as a campaign staffer and as a human being if you’re willing to say to the person who is paying your paycheck, “You are wrong. You need to talk to the press. You need to go out and answer these questions. You need to answer for why you switched your position.” It is a conflict of interest because the same person that is paying you, you have to give hard advice and talk about things, personal things that are not comfortable to talk about. So I would say, you have to fight against that continuously in order to add value to your candidate.

Least Valuable Player – The LVP of the conference was Peter Ragone, representing Gavin Newsom’s short and stunted primary bid for governor. Ragone is a nice guy and a competent operative, but his endless, obviously phony spin on behalf of the new Lite Governor had the audience groaning and looking for barf bags.

Newsom, it seems, is a politician of uncommon moral courage, motivated by only two idealistic factors – his unstinting and unselfish determination to do what is right and true and good for all the rest of us (after trashing the office of lieutenant governor, he changed his mind and ran because “he decided this was where he could the most good”) and the high moral courage that drives him to put his family above all else (no mention of him boinking the wife of his chief of staff in the mayor’s office). Self-interest never figures into it, Ragone would have us believe. Enough to make a hog puke. No matter what new UC Regent Newsom wanted, IGS should have invited Garry South and Nick Clemons, his actual gubernatorial campaign directors.

The missing characters –  The transcript of the proceedings will be turned into a book which purportedly will serve as the final word on the governor’s race. Puh-leeze. Consider this: the three most important behind-the-scenes players in the race – Brown’s wife Anne Gust, Whitman major domo Henry Gomez and top strategist Mike Murphy – didn’t figure in any of the discussions and, unless we missed it during a trip to the head or the cookie table, their names were never even mentioned. That’s like doing Hamlet without Hamlet.

Kudos to the stand-ins. While eMeg’s minions cowered in fear far away from Berkeley, former state chairmen Duf Sundheim and Bob Naylor, along with veteran strategist Jim Brulte, did a terrific job of describing the GOP perspective, their limited contacts with the candidate and her turf-conscious consultants, and how the establishment watched in horror as Whitman melted down.

“As Republicans, we were really concerned as the primary went on because since they were so close on the issues, it was really going to come down to a very nasty, personal fight,” Sundheim said. Said Naylor: “When the dust settled in the primary, the Whitman campaign was over.” And Brulte, who with his commentary reaffirmed his position as the sharpest Republican mind in the state, observed that except for Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger – celebrities who transcended politics – California voters have always wanted  an experienced hand as governor. By spending so much money on television without a break, Whitman undercut her own ability to be the next best thing, he argued. “By Labor Day, Jerry Brown, who was governor when I was in high school, was the fresh new face.”

Message trumps money – Since we’re kvetching about others for a lack of self-criticism, Calbuzz should acknowledge that our own coverage may have suffered from putting too much focus on the extraordinary spectacle of Meg’s crazed spending, which at times led us to the misassumption that she could make up for her lack of a clear and consistent winning message by throwing money at the problem.

“I never understood it,” said Democratic consultant Gale Kaufman. “Every time you turned on the TV, there were four or five tracks of (Whitman) ads that were completely different. They were switching ads all the time. You had no idea what their strategy was and never had anyone explain it to me.”  The Whitman campaign never had a compelling message, agreed consultant Rick Claussen: “Tactics is just a way to talk to voters.” You can spend all you want reaching out to voters, but if you don’t have something worth listening to, it’s a huge waste of money.

Brown was both lucky and good – In the final session of the conference, Brulte put his partisan perspective aside and offered his bottom line: Brown “ran a picture perfect campaign,” he said, a strategy built on keeping its focus on fundraising, using the office of Attorney General to keep him in the news and steering their own course no matter how much the winds emanating from Camp Whitman tried to blow them off course.

In Jim Moore, Brown had the best pollster in the race, the best ad man in Joe Trippi and the most disciplined manager in Glazer; their game plan to hold their fire until Labor Day, while many top Democrats and the political peanut gallery were hollering for them to answer eMeg’s summer assault, made all the difference. But Brown’s strategists also admitted that they benefited from missteps by eMeg. Said Glazer:

The one worry that I had when we went through that (2009) fall period into the new year was that Meg Whitman was going to use her resources to use Jerry Brown as the foil to be a stronger Republican . . . I thought that she would — even before the new year struck — that she would start to use Jerry Brown and start to raise our negatives by running against us as the presumptive Republican nominee. And I expected that all the way through until the primary day. I was very surprised that that actually never happened.

Once the primary was over, Trippi’s greatest fear was that Whitman would “go dark” over the summer, giving voters a respite from her 24/7 invasion of their living rooms and allowing her to re-emerge as a fresh face in the fall. Instead she essentially turned herself into the incumbent in a year when voters wanted change.

As Bognet had put it earlier: “She built herself a $180 million brand. Unfortunately, by the time the general came around her brand was, ‘She’s the woman with the money who won’t get off my TV.’”

Panelists also agreed that Whitman made a huge error by trying to portray Brown as a traditional tax and spend liberal, which simply misstates his record. As Republican Naylor, who served in the Assembly during Brown’s first turn as governor, put it: “Tax and spend doesn’t stick with Jerry Brown.”

Tone matters – Trippi correctly observed that the relentlessly snarky tone of Whitman’s relentless attack ads didn’t resonate with voters – “failure has followed him everywhere” he intoned — because they have a much more complex and long-running, if not always fond, relationship with him. Better for the Whitman people, Trippi said, to have been respectful to Brown by crafting a  more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger “gold watch” message, saying that he had performed valuable service to the state but adding that it was simply time for him to go, and to elect a “governor for the 21st century.”

Trying to avoid the press was a huge blunder — Speaker after speaker pointed to Whitman’s strategy of stiffing the media as a costly error for several reasons: it sent a message to voters that she thought she was too good to go through the usual hoops candidates for high office have always faced; it established a narrative that Whitman was secretive, and must have something to hide; it was a clear affront to the working press of the state, and their frustration showed up in the stories. As Poizner’s Jarrod Agen put it: “It never works to avoid the press.”

Bill Lockyer is the Diogenes of state politics — California’s treasurer was the keynote speaker of the conference and he turned in a boffo performance that provided a full-on and utterly frank look at the state of the state’s finances. Ask Lockyer what time it is and he’s liable to tell you how to make a watch, so some of his discourse on the niceties of the municipal bond market were a bit windy, but he’s smart, funny and seen it all. We’ll be running the text of his speech later this week.

Worst advice – The model for a California GOP comeback is Chris Christie in New Jersey, said Republican Tony Quinn. Sustained attacks on public employee unions and bloated government are the key to victory, he said. When Calbuzz rose to note that Whitman had done exactly that, he replied that she hadn’t done it very well.

Immigration sunk Whitman – Even before Meg’s Nicky Diaz housekeeper scandal, the immigration issue was a huge problem for Whitman. As Glazer explained, she had many liabilities on the issue even without Nicky – from shifting positions on a path to citizenship to her opposition to the Dream Act. Poizner’s hardline position in the primary forced her to move far right, which made her efforts to get back to the center in the general look pathetically calculated. When the Nicky story erupted, it merely personalized the hypocrisy and brazen opportunism of her political stances.

As Poizner’s Agen explained:

If we’d gotten into the general, it would have been a policy debate between Steve and Governor Brown on the policy issue of immigration. Jerry Brown would have had one stance on immigration, Steve would have had the other. But it would have been a policy discussion on immigration . . . What ended up happening, though, was immigration turned into a character issue and that is what ultimately hurts the Republican Party hugely is if immigration is a character issue. If it stays a policy issue, people are going to disagree with it and we felt that if you get to the general election, we’ll have it out, we’ll have that debate with Jerry on immigration, we’ll see how people, where people stand.

Best line – The strategists were asked at one point to name one thing they would have done that they didn’t do. “Telephone operational training,” said Glazer, a big laugh reference to Brown’s failure to hang up the phone when leaving a message with a law enforcement union, which led to the flap over someone in Brown headquarters (hello, Anne) referring to eMeg as a political “whore.”

Best fights – Field Pollster Mark Dicamillo ripped off the face of robopollster Jay Leve of SurveyUSA (in the nicest possible way), who responded with a furious defense of his methodology, a screed that included some whacks at Calbuzz. The Cage Match of the pollsters was only matched for excitement when Democratic operative Bob Mulholland and Tony Quinn got into a finger-pointing duel about the rules and political significance of the new “top two” primary system. Talk about don’t-invite-ems.

The new Whig party — A number of speakers at the conference strongly argued that the California Republican party is essentially dead. Brulte for one said there was no way Whitman could have won the race because of the structural and demographic political landscape of the state, while Sundheim said “Republicans, as a brand, are dead.” Speaker after speaker noted how the Republican hostility to Latinos and other minorities, coupled with tired messaging that has nothing for younger voters, has made them an isolated and marginal party of old white people. Most seemed to have read and adopted the Calbuzz Memo to CA GOP: Time to Do Something Different.

Speaking of Whigs — Sacramento consultant Ray McNally, proving that there’s not much new in American politics, read from an 1840 confidential memo written by Abraham Lincoln that laid out a complete organizing strategy for the “overthrow of the corrupt powers that now control our beloved country,” which included everything from polling and GOTV to voter contact and fundraising. Example: “3) It will also be their duty to report to you, at least once a month, the progress they are making, and on election days see that every Whig is brought to the polls.” You can read it here.

The two minds of the voters – Political scientist Kim Nalder from Sac State honed in on the most fundamental factor driving state politics today: the disconnect that voters feel between demanding high levels of service and their determination not to pay taxes. Lockyer underscored a Calbuzz report that voters think 48% of the money the state spends is wasted –  a high hurdle for Brown to overcome if he is to sell his cuts-and-taxes budget plan to fix the state’s $28 billion budget shortfall.

Deep thoughts: Thad Kousser of UC San Diego made some points that cut against the notion that California is forever blue (an argument that effectively lets the Armies of eMeg off the hook). A panel of political scientists agreed that “campaign effects” are marginal – but that marginal effects matter big time in close races, so the Whitman-Brown race could have been close – “Nothing was inevitable in this campaign.” And a note to future mega-spending candidates: “Campaigns can’t tell voters what to think, but they can tell them what to think about.”

Nice work — There were too many journalists from the LA Times on the program (although we were wrong to say two of the three didn’t cover the governor’s race: only one did not) and not enough from other major papers or news agencies. But the four who participated — Mark Barabak, Cathy Decker and Anthony York of the Times, and Timm Herdt of the Ventura County Star — did a fine job of moving the conversation along.