Governor Jerry Brown’s failure to explain to 3,000 activists at the weekend California Democratic Party convention why they should support his tax-hike initiative instead of two others that threaten to swamp his measure left us pondering the possible reasons for his wimp-out.
1. Maybe Brown truly has no clue, yet, how to explain why his measure is better than Molly Munger’s or the California Federation of Teachers’ “millionaires tax.”
2. Maybe he’s in secret talks with the CFT (or even Munger, although that seems far less likely) to get them to back out and he didn’t want to blow the deal amid delicate negotiations.
3. Maybe he secretly wants the millionaires tax to pass but doesn’t want his fingerprints on it.
With delegates looking for leadership on the matter, all Gandalf could bother himself to say on the issue was, “Look, we’ve got some issues. We’ve got a tax measure, we have a little, few issues there, and we’ll be talking about that from time to time. You’ll get your marching orders soon enough.”
Cryptic and high-handed – kinda like Jerry himself when he really has no idea what he’s doing, which argues for #1 above.
He did, however, find time to remind delegates of how clever he was to hold his fire during the summer of 2010 so that he had the resources to counter attack against eMeg Whitman in the fall, which maybe was his way of saying “Trust me on this.”
This is the beauty of using Sun Tzu as a guide to politics: you can do whatever you want and, if you win, claim it was the result of brilliant strategy, as in this advice from the Art of War:
All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, seem as if unable to attack; when using forces actively, seem inactive; when nearby, make the enemy believe you are far away; when far away, make the enemy believe you are nearby. Hold out baits to entice the enemy to act. Feign disorder, and strike him when he seeks to take advantage.
Maybe that explains why Brown could complain, via email from his sidekick Steve Glazer, that reporters who rushed backstage to get a comment from him following his vacant speech were invading his “private space.” Private space? Seriously? This from a guy who’s spent decades stealing french fries off people’s plates. Puhleeeeeese.
A final look at the weekend’s winners and losers:
Winner: Howard Berman. In a confab low on excitement and drama, Berman’s hard-won battle to deny Demo congressional rival Brad Sherman the party’s formal endorsement was the most entertaining spectacle of the weekend, complete with stolen ballots, forgery charges and two of the most bitter political speeches in memory, as John Myers splendidly recounts with full audio included. Berman is a serious DC player more used to talking to Benjamin Netahanyu than to Bolsheviks in the Demo’s Left-Handed Estonian Mime caucus, but when the deal went down, the Berman-Waxman Westside operation proved it still has the chops and moves to win an old-school street brawl.
Loser: Brad Sherman. As a practical matter, Sherman’s failure to win the endorsement matters most because he can’t now sell himself as the approved Democratic candidate in the 30th CD on slate mailers and elsewhere. As a political matter, it’s a full-on personal embarrassment because these were his people – Democratic club activists and Roberts Rules of Order propeller heads he spent years cultivating while Berman was busy working to shape American foreign policy in the Mideast.
Winner: Fox News. We didn’t actually spot any undercover Fair and Balanced video spies lurking around the convention but don’t be surprised if highlights show up on Hannity or O’Reilly closer to the election. Between Van Jones calling for the “restoration” of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker, Gavin Newsom paying public homage to the Occupy movement and DNC honcho Alice Germond praising California as the home of “liberal politics,” the weekend was chock full of moments to satisfy the socialist conspiracy theories of the most avid Tea Partier.
Loser: LA Times. Maybe it’s just the lousy search function on the By-God LAT web site, but we could find no sign of a day-after story about the Berman-Sherman set-to. Although the nationally watched, intraparty fight in its home turf is the hottest political race in California, the paper appears to be concentrating resources on coverage of the secessionist movement in Scotland.
Winner (tie): Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom. The Empress of River City raised the roof with the best speech of the weekend and Prince Gavin ubiquitously worked every room and got the rock star treatment from Dems who rushed to have their camera phone photo taken with him. While newly minted conventional wisdom says one or the other will wait for a U.S. Senate seat to open up to avoid a face-to-face over replacing Gandalf, the A.G. and Lite Gov were equally impressive in flying the flag for party activists, regardless of what either decides to do next.
Loser: Antonio Villaraigosa. L.A.’s mayor couldn’t be bothered to head down the 405 to even put in an appearance at the convention, missing an easy chance to raise his visibility for a future statewide race. Tony V’s on-again off-again efforts to look like a major player in California apparently are off again, and erstwhile allies could only roll their eyes when asked what they think he’s up to.
The (F—in’) Chair Recognizes
Winner: John Burton. Even though Calbuzz scored the rare double F-bomb from Mr. Chairman for asking questions about the head table seating arrangements at Saturday’s big lunch, we have to admit Burton actually ran a pretty tight ship. He seemed more cheerful and focused than usual, despite his constant cranky ranting from the podium, as he enforced discipline on the parade of long-winded speakers and brought the long general session to a close right on time.
Loser: John Burton. While not the legislative giant late brother Phil was, Burton has a long and solid record as a state and national lawmaker, particularly on behalf of the poor, old and ailing, but it consistently gets lost amid his foul-mouth wild man act. It’s notable that not too many officeholders missed a chance to tweak Burton from the podium about his infamous performance on the Daily Show, and though it was meant in fun, it’ll be a shame if his substantive accomplishments are forgotten behind his self-parody performance as Crazy Uncle John.
The Social Whirl
Winner: California Correctional Peace Officers Association. The CCPOA once again hosted the best reception of the Democratic convention. Between the savory paella, prime rib carving station, free booze and smooth jazz trio, the high-powered union showed every other interest group how it’s done as demonstrated by the pols that showed up, led by Newsom, the honoree of the evening. Bravo Michael Flores.
Loser: Burnside & Associates. The LA consulting firm rolled out one of the more unusual marketing maneuvers we’ve seen, dispatching an associate to stand in a hallway and hand out box loads of logo-stamped plastic water bottles filled with vodka and diet Mountain Dew, which for mysterious reasons is the firm’s signature drink. Oh sure, Calbuzz sampled the product, purely for professional purposes, but we had to wonder about the wisdom of pushing free booze on all comers including a bunch of, um, Young Democrats who couldn’t get enough of the swill.
Winner: Tony Strickland. The Republican state senator, who chickened out of running for re-election in his reapportioned Central Coast district to launch a campaign to replace retiring GOP congressman Elton Gallegly, got a major boost when his leading Democratic rival, Ventura County supervisor Steve Bennett, showed up with a blindside announcement that he’s decided not to seek the new 26th CD seat after all. As throughout his political career, Taliban Tony again seems more lucky than good.
Loser: Steve Bennett. Bennett’s unexpected announcement surprised and angered even some of his own supporters and left the Dems without their strongest candidate in the field at a time when California pick-ups are central to Pelosi’s long shot bid to win back the speakership. Moorpark councilman David Pollock now becomes the Democratic front-runner, but under jungle primary rules could fall short of making the run-off with both Strickland and fellow Republican Linda Parks, another Ventura supe, looking formidable.
Winner: Carla Marinucci. “Political porn” is what the Hearst Chronicle’s ace news hen called the crazy scene at the Berman-Sherman caucus, where several hundred full-grown adults spent their Saturday night obsessing over voice votes, parliamentary procedure rulings and arcane matters of political process that any normal person would find utterly baffling and bizarre.
Loser: Jerry Brown. “The most forgotten soul in purgatory” seemed a most unlikely political phrase, even for the Jesuit-trained governor. His intent to call attention to the conditions of state prisons may have been commendable, but on a day when party loyalists were looking to him for guidance on the looming tax initiative war, it came across simply as one more oh-that’s-just-Jerry irrelevant distraction.