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Friday Fishwrap: Time for Mayor Tony V’s Close-up

Friday, June 5th, 2009

lu-parker-4Setting the record straight: The news that L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been granting, um, exclusive face time to yet another TV journalist of the female persuasion brought an anguished cry of apology from Dr. P.J Hackenflack, Calbuzz staff psychiatrist and executive BBQ chef.

Several L.A. media hounds, led by KNBC-TV,  reported that Hizzoner has been doing close ups with Lu Parker, a local TV reporter and fill-in anchor, who also was Miss USA of 1994 (Our old pal Rick Orlov of the Daily News, the town’s most venerable political scribe, has the best piece on the gubernatorial implications of the matter). As all the world knows, Tony V in 2007 crashed his decades-long marriage when he had a much-publicized affair with another TV reporter, Mirthala Salinas of Telemundo.

Here at Calbuzz, we’re mostly of the what-he-does-on-his-time-is-his-own business school of political affairs, but when we occasionally wade into tabloid territory, we like to make sure our facts are nailed down. To wit: our own Dr. H was asked, back on April 11 why Villaraigosa was eyeing a race for governor so soon after being re-electeed mayor and replied:dr-hackenflack

“He heard that Telemundo has a new reporter on the political beat.”

Who knew? Today the good doctor issued this correction:

On April 11, I incorrectly identified the TV outlet employing the reporter in question. Ms. Lu works for KTLA-TV, not Telemundo. The Hackenflack Institute regrets the error.

GOOOAAAALLLL!!! When a grim-faced Gov. Terminator stood before the Legislature Tuesday to deliver the latest bad budget news, he somehow forgot to tell them about his latest happy idea for bringing big bucks to California.

Seems the same day as the speech, the AP reported that Arnold is helping to kick start the effort to bring the World Cup to the U.S. – and hopefully to Kaleefornya.


“Soccer is the world’s most popular sport and California has been home to some of its most exciting games, and I am proud to be a part of bringing the World Cup back to the United States,” Schwarzenegger said. “The millions of fans from around the globe that will travel to the United States to cheer their teams will prove a great benefit for our state, our nation and the world of soccer.”

Not only that, Herr Governor has offered a host of possible venues – including at least two owned by the state – Cal’s Memorial Stadium and the L.A. Coliseum. Wait a minute – isn’t Arnold selling the Coliseum to make money to keep the schools open? Talk about double booking a venue.

Endorsement ennui: eMeg Whitman has gotten major mileage for her Rose Garden campaign for governor from several big-name national endorsements, including the ubiquitous John McCain, whom we apparently have to blame for convincing Her Megness to get into politics (Yo Meg! Ever heard of the Straight Talk Express?)and House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, proclaimed an alleged rising star by much of the Beltway MSM.

Now Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, the grouchiest man ever to run for governor, is firing back with his own set of endorsements. And while they’re not flashy, unlike most endorsements, they might be actually useful in running a governor’s race.

Poizner spinmeister Kevin Spillane reports his guy has collected endorsements from 32 of 44 GOP legislators, plus “eight former California Republican Party Chairs, dozens of local elected officials, numerous current and former Republican County Chairs and hundreds of members of the California Republican Party State Central Committee.”

Such backing from the political hoi polloi for sure won’t get you a seat with Wolf on “The Situation Room,” not to mention a sloppy wet kiss from Fred Barnes; but it can’t hurt if your goal is to organize a voter registration or GOTV operation in some Assembly district out in Indio or Buttonwillow.

Drill baby drill: The shaggy dog story about the much-chronicled-by-Calbuzz Tranquillon Ridge offshore oil drilling project took another turn this week, when the State Lands Commission hit back at the governor for his effort to overturn their decision rejecting the proposal.

The commission meeting on Monday featured mucho fireworks, with Lite Gov. John Garamendi, who opposes the plan, facing off against fellow commissioner Tom Sheehy of the Department of Finance, representing the governor. For political junkie fans who tire of watching re-runs of Brian Lamb interviewing presidential biographers on “Booknotes,” much of the entertainment is up on You Tube here.

Our favorite highlight is watching Santa Barbara coastal advocate and Democratic assembly hopeful Susan Jordan try to keep her head from exploding when she testifies after Sheehy’s comments.

susanjordansbJordan had a weird week all in all: on Wednesday, the layoff-riddled Chronicle ran an obit of famed lefty attorney Susan Jordan, who cut a wide swath in Bay Area political trials back in the day, and who died in a plane crash this week. Apparently lacking anyone who was around in those days, the Chron managed to publish it with a photo of The Wrong Susan Jordan, who fielded calls from friends across the country to assure them reports of her death were greatly exaggerated. The Chron ran a no-big-deal correction, but no one from the paper bothered to contact The Wrong Susan Jordan to apologize.

Calbuzz condolences to the family of attorney Susan Jordan and to Tom Sheehy, who had to leave the lands commission hearing when he was informed of the untimely death of a family member.

Must reads of the week: The Wall Street Journal reports that California is far from the only state in crisis – and that fiscal health is not returning to the states anytime soon.

Finally: Amid all of America’s awful problems, let’s be glad we at least don’t have a poetry scandal.

CA Forward Moves Ahead on Majority Budget Plan

Thursday, June 4th, 2009


California Forward, the good government group backed by the state’s most muscular civic foundations, decided Wednesday – at least tentatively – to stand up and play a role in reforming California.

The goo-goos’ leadership council agreed to support scrapping the two-thirds legislative vote now required to approve the budget in favor of a majority vote, according to leakage through the Victorian windows in the Drawing Room of the Sterling Hotel, where the group was meeting in Sacramento to hash out an action item agenda.

Endorsement of a majority budget vote would be part of a package of reforms that includes two-year budgeting, performance management measures, a sunset review of government codes, a rainy-day fund and a “pay-go” requirement that new legislation must identify funds or cuts, Calbuzz also learned. (Until the whole group agrees with the leadership council’s proposals, support for any of this remains provisional.)

The group – backed by California Endowment, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation – is ideologically diverse, so the two-thirds budget vote proposal has proved a difficult one for members because of the partisan polarization split on the issue.

Cal Forward is also apparently inching toward support for a constitutional change to return to local governments the authority to raise revenues with less than the two-thirds vote mandated by Proposition 13 since 1978.

Whether reforms like these can be accomplished one at a time or in clusters, or whether substantive reform will demand a constitutional convention, as outlined by the Bay Area Council, remains to be seen. But for now, at least, it looks like California Forward is opting to assert an active role in the reform movement.

Campbell’s Egghead Budget Talk Wows Cato

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

campbellprofessorTom Campbell became the first politician in history Wednesday to have staff members hand out nine pages of photocopied economic charts to his audience before delivering a speech.

“If you would turn with me to page three,” the Republican wannabe governor began, speaking to a group of about 60 members and fans of the libertarian Cato Institute meeting in Santa Barbara.

Campbell, with both a PhD in economics and a law degree, who was no doubt the goody-goody in the front row who always had his hand up, led his listeners through a 30-minute seminar on the state budget crisis, monetary policy and the coming wave of inflation. His rather rudimentary visual aid handouts included five fever charts, three bar graphs and two tables, plus a full-page explanation of Milton Friedman’s money supply equation (MV=PQ).*

You gotta’ hand it to him, the guy knows his audience.

Over broiled chicken, rice, chardonnay and a light chocolate mousse with some kind of rolled cookie the size of a fireplace poker stuck in it, the Catoites listened raptly to Campbell’s pitch. When an institute official noted in his introduction that the conservative economist Friedman had been Campbell’s faculty adviser at the University of Chicago, they ooohed and ahhhed in the same way Calbuzz might if, oh say, Miss Universe strolled into world headquarters. When he’d finished his speech, they loudly applauded when he answered “Yes” to a question of whether he is running for governor.

“Right now, it’s all about name ID,” the candidate told Calbuzz in a pre-lunch chat, “and unlike my opponents, I don’t have the money to buy it.”

As a political matter, we asked Campbell, Arnold’s former state finance director, what he foresaw as the likely outcome of the festering budget mess in Sacramento. He ticked off three scenarios:

1-Obama and the federal government get involved in providing loan guarantees so California can go into the market and get Revenue Anticipation Warrants to pay its bills. He thinks this is unlikely politically, because it would cause too much resentment among other states, adding that if Obama does act, he worries the president will attach a bunch of strings to protect the unions as his top priority.

2-The Legislature throws up its hands, repeals its earlier approval of a two-year budget, and passes a new budget with $25+ billion in phony “anticipated revenues” or some such gimmick. Because it would be a new budget, Arnold would regain the power of the line item veto to cut any spending he wanted and the political onus for the pain would all be on him. “The constitution does not require the Legislature to pass a balanced budget; it requires the legislature to say they passed a balanced budget,” he said, dryly.

3-Dysfunctional partisan “stalemate” returns, the Legislature is unable to pass a budget, and the state starts missing payments on its bills sometime in July. At that point, he believes, some unpaid vendor or vendors would file a class action suit and the state would find itself in court being ordered by some federal judge (Article 1, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from defaulting, Campbell helpfully pointed out) to sell off assets and take other actions to pay the bills. The candidate said he sees this as “the most likely outcome.”

When Campbell talks about the budget, compared to the rest of the cock-and-bull-peddling gubernatorial pack, he ends up looking like the guy Diogenes spent his life searching for. To his credit, Campbell even told the tax-hating Cato crowd that a big part of his short-term solution for the budget mess would be temporary 36 cent-a-gallon increase in the gas tax.

“I want to be candid,” he told them, “even if it loses me some voters.”

*Weed whacker footnote: In the money supply equation – MV=PQ:
M= money supply
V= velocity of money (i.e. how often money changes hands in a year).
P= price level

Campbell figures that within the last year, the federal government has increased the nation’s money supply – through stimulus, TARP, tax rebates, mortgage bailouts, assistance to Freddie, Fannie, etc – by $2.8 trillion dollars, or about 34%. When the economy recovers, and the velocity exchange returns to normal, he estimates the practical impact of that will be an increase in inflation of at least 13 percent in the first year. Go figure.

What’s The Beef Over Jerry Brown Contributions?

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

beef2Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner on Wednesday called on Attorney General Jerry Brown to return $52,500 in campaign contributions received from relatives and a company of two men he is currently investigating in a public pension fund corruption probe.

Which immediately caused Calbuzz to ask: “What’s the problem?”

Late last year, Brown took $48,000 in contributions from relatives of Sacramento lobbyist Darius Anderson and another $4,500 from a company run by LA fundraiser Daniel Weinstein, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Later, it became known that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo was investigating Anderson’s Gold Bridge Capital and Weinstein’s Wetherly Capital for their roles in helping money management firms secure multimillion-dollar investments from public pension funds in several states.

And so Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office opened an investigation into Gold Bridge and Wetherly, as well. Even though they were campaign contributors.

Wait a minute. We don’t have to defend Darius Anderson or Daniel Weinstein (or even Hank Morris, the former Dianne Feinstein consultant who is at the center of Cuomo’s investigation), to see that Poizner – and the Sac B, for that matter – are whacking Brown for what? Doing his job? How incredibly disingenuous.

If General Field Marshal Jerry took contributions and dropped an investigation – that might be a story. If he failed to investigate a guy who was a big contributor – that could be news.

But this sounds to us like Brown is following something akin to the Jesse Unruh Rule: “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, take their money and then vote against them, you’ve got no business being up here.”

How May 19 Election Is Just Like “Rashomon”

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

rashomonbwGov.  Arnold began his budget speech to the Legislature Tuesday with a touch-all-the-bases analysis of the meaning of the May 19 special election.

“That message was clear,” he said. “Do your job. Don’t come to us with these complex issues. Live within your means. Get rid of the waste and inefficiencies. And don’t raise taxes.”

Well, two out of five ain’t bad.

Schwarzenegger’s opening line was just the latest effort by California politicians of almost every stripe to overreach and over-interpret the Just-Say-No votes on Propositions 1A-1E in the dismal turnout special.

Since May 19, the foregone election results have become like the crimes at the center of “Rashomon,” the famous 1950 Akira Kurosawa film, in which the same incident is described – in mutually contradictory ways – from four different subjective perspectives.

As a political matter, however, conservative Republicans have been extremely successful in selling their version of events. In dominating the fight to frame the narrative about May 19, they’ve not only pushed Schwarzenegger back into paddle-to-the-right, no new taxes mode, but also apparently intimidated majority Democrats (including even Dianne Feinstein back in DC) into buying into or fearing to protest their predictable, antediluvian interpretation.

So on the one hand the California Republican Party boldly declares that the election sent a “national anti-tax message,” and our friend John Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, insists that “voters were crystal clear in statement about their tax burden.” And on the other hand, it’s left to former liberal lawmaker Sheila Kuehl, who argues voters were saying Sacramento shouldn’t “keep balancing the budget on the backs of average Californians” and Democratic poll taker David Binder, who says voters actually favor some tax increases over cuts in education and other programs, to make the case on the other side.

How about this, Calbuzzers? There was one and only one overarching message from the overwhelming majority of voters who DIDN’T EVEN BOTHER TO SHOW UP: Work it out among yourselves and stop bothering us. (On this point we agree with Arnold’s analysts.)

As we wrote on the morning of May 20 the election was “a clear signal that voters are way beyond fed up with half-measures, marginal fixes and smoke and mirrors in Sacramento.” And the plain fact is that all the over-wrought interpretation of the May 19 results since then is little more than spin, propaganda and self-interested commentary.

Let’s look at the facts:

* The latest voter turnout number reported by the Secretary of State shows that 27.5 percent of the 17,153,012 registered voters (or 20 percent of those eligible) bothered to show up, which hardly scores as a broad-based populist message about anything beyond the fact that they found the ballot props incomprehensible.

* While the Sacramento establishment poured millions into passing the props, much of the money spent against them came from normally Democrat/left constituencies, like SEIU and CFT. The fact that these groups got into bed with anti-tax Republicans, normally their mortal enemies, shows that the resounding “No” vote had multiple roots and represented anything but a “clear” — let alone “crystal clear” fercryin’outloud — message about anything.

* Binder is the only guy who has anything remotely resembling quantitative data on the special. His close ties to Democrats and labor give those on the right an excuse not to even look at his research on what was on voters’ minds. But, as Binder wrote, it shows that voters surveyed before and right after the election “do not trust the leadership in Sacramento, and recognize that the failed special election was just another example of the inability to bring real solutions to voters.” And, as the pre-election Field Poll found, voters favor a blend of cuts and taxes to address the deficit. (The key here, of course, is that they want taxes that affect someone else – tobacco, oil royalties, the very wealthy, for example.)

It is an abiding mystery why wussy, wimp Dems have so passively allowed knuckle-dragging Reeps to seize control of the narrative. That aside, the over-interpretation of May 19 has gotten plain silly, and it’s well past time to throw a yellow flag.

Let’s be crystal clear: Calbuzz isn’t making an argument for or against taxes, or for or against specific program cuts or anything else to do with policy. Our mission remains unwavering: to watch the battle safely from atop the hill, then swoop in bravely to shoot the wounded.

We’re just sayin’.