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PPIC Confirms Poiz Surge, eMeg Drop: It’s a Race!

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Amid the most expensive and one of the meaner Republican primary fights ever in California,  Steve Poizner has moved within striking distance of Meg Whitman, whose support has plummeted in the last 60 days, according to the latest survey by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California.

The survey, completed Sunday and including 411 likely Republican primary voters, found Whitman with 38% and Poizner at 29% leaving 31% undecided. The finding represented a huge surge for The Commish, from 11% in March, and a precipitous drop for eMeg, from 61% in March. The margin of error for the GOP primary results was ±5%.

The new survey is the first substantive, independent evidence of the big Poizner move, a trend first claimed by his own campaign two weeks ago, when his strategists released some of their internal polling, and suggested by other private and media polls.

According to PPIC, the biggest movement away from Whitman was among non-college graduates, among whom she lost 29 percentage points, and — somewhat counter-intuitively — voters with incomes greater than $80,000, among whom she lost 28 points. The survey did not shed much light on why the race has tightened.

Nevertheless, the often low-key, academic and understated PPIC was impressed enough by the results to title its release:  “Stunning Drop in Whitman’s Support Transforms GOP Race for Governor.”

With Whitman dropping another $4 million on Tuesday, bringing her total to a staggering $68 million, it remains an open question whether Poizner has the will to throw enough of his own money into the race.  He’s in for $24 million thus far. But unless he pours big money into the final weeks — and spends it on a sharp and effective message –  it’s hard to see how he can close the gap.

PPIC also found that while the Republicans have been slicing and dicing one another, Democrat Jerry Brown has retaken the lead in simulated November match-ups against Whitman and Poizner. Krusty the General leads eMeg 42-37% (compared to trailing 39-44% in March) and he leads the Commish 45-32%, unchanged from previous surveys.

The general election match-ups were based on interviews with 1,168 likely voters for a margin of error of ±3%.

In the increasingly contentious GOP race for the U.S. Senate, Carly Fiorina and Tom Campbell remain locked at 25-23% (it was 24-23% in March), while Chuck DeVore has doubled his support to 16%. Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer still defeats all three GOP challenges in simulated match-ups: 46-40% over Campbell; 48-39% over Fiorina, and 50-39% over DeVore.

Against Whitman, Brown holds 70% of the Democrats, while she holds 69% of the Republicans. But Brown has a small lead — 38-34% — among the pivotal independent voters, according to PPIC.

The survey also shows a marked gender gap, with Whitman holding a tiny 42-40% lead among men but Brown holding a substantial 45-33% lead among women. This could prove highly significant since part of the rationale for a Whitman candidacy is that she would have a theoretical possibility of peeling women away from Brown in a general election. Thus far, that dynamic is not in evidence.

Bad News for Our Friends at Flash Report

Straight from PPIC’s release:

“Of the four main spending categories of the state budget, Californians are the most willing to consider a tax increase to spare K–12 education from budget cuts (69%), while just over half would pay higher taxes to maintain current funding levels for higher education (54%) or for health and human services (54%). A large majority (79%) opposes paying higher taxes to spare prisons and corrections from budget cuts.

“Californians would consider some other ways to raise revenues: 67 percent favor raising the top rate of the state income tax paid by the wealthiest Californians and 58 percent would favor raising state taxes paid by California corporations. Residents are much less likely to support extending the state sales tax to services that are not currently taxed (35%) or increasing the vehicle license fee (28%).”

Pre-Gnawing on a Fresh Bone

BTW, when we read Steve Harmon’s piece about eMeg’s Mike Murphy trying to pre-spin the PPIC poll, we were really proud that Ye Ole Swashbuckler Murph hadn’t tried to pre-spin Calbuzz. We figured he thought we wouldn’t drink his Kool-Aid. But after our Wednesday item dissing the Fox & Hounds poll, Murph wrote to us insisting we are dead wrong.

“You’re 12 days behind,” Murph wrote. ” Truth is Meg is way up now.  SBAC poll is right.  Actually latest numbers are more than +25.  Two new private polls.  Why do you think Poiz won’t release his POS tracking?  Ad you panned worked really well.  You gotta spend more time with GOP primary voters and you’d understand.   I’m not trying to place an item, just telling you what’s true.”

And thank you for that.

Three Weeks to Go: Krusty Holds Campaign Kickoff

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Casting himself as a populist who will “rein in greed,” Jerry Brown held the first official event of his campaign for governor Monday, promising to fight tax cuts for the wealthy, the repeal of climate change legislation and the scapegoating of public employees.

The attorney general, who has enjoyed the political luxury of laying low amid an uncontested Democratic primary and a concurrent brutal brawl for the Republican nomination, surfaced at a rally at UC Santa Barbara, three weeks and one day before the June 8 election. There, he assailed his GOP rivals as tribunes of the rich whose enormously expensive TV campaigns feed the “continuing corruption of the political process.”

“We have the ideas but we have to push back,” Brown told a crowd of about 200 students, faculty and staff who gathered on a gloomy day on a sloping lawn near the lagoon on the beachfront campus.

The other side, kind of the apostles of darkness and ignorance, are well heeled. They have great political consultants. And they intend to bombard the airwaves. It’s almost like a hostile takeover of the public airwaves and of democracy itself. We gotta’ fight back and you’ve gotta fight back and I need your help.

After months of avoiding campaign events, other than low-key fundraisers, Brown emerged on the trail with a raft of full-throated populist rhetoric and a notable shortage of specific proposals that went much beyond opposition to conservative policies embraced by Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner as the two battle for the right to oppose him in the general election.

‘Krusty the General portrayed both eMeg and the Commish as beneficiaries of the unregulated financial markets of recent years, casting their millions in campaign spending as symptomatic, not only of inequities in the economy, but also of the coarsening of political discourse in the nation.

Photos by Joseph A. Garcia, Ventura County Star

There’s no content there. It’s like, I don’t know who they’re appealing to, I don’t think they read much about the history of this country. Thomas Jefferson and the founders said we need an educated citizenry… it means when you’re having a campaign at least you could speak to the intellect and not to whoever they’re speaking too — they’re so banal.

If you want to know how to write and think, just look at those ads and it’s the exact opposite. I think, I don’t think they’re even healthy for the mind. I think they’re contaminating the children who may see these things.

Brown walked to the microphone with two pages of notes but wrapped them tightly in his hand in lieu of consulting them. His stump skills seemed rusty from disuse, as he winged his way through a 20-minute speech that careened from point to point on a course more disjointed than linear; several times, his sentences drifted off, before he ended them with an awkward “…anyway.”

At several points. he told his audience he wouldn’t name his foes, referring to them just as “two Republicans.” A moment later, he added:

“There’s two people. I’ll mention them – Whitman,” he said, before appearing briefly to forget the name of California’s state insurance commissioner, “and…Poiz…ner.”

Brown said that the type of campaigns being run by the two Republicans is partly to blame for the anger among voters and the low regard in which they hold government and elected officials.

That’s dangerous in a democracy, if the mechanism of our collective decision making is so discredited, what does that say about the viability of the whole set of our institutions? It is dangerous and you have a stake in this, your future is at stake here. It’s at stake in the continuing corruption of the political process, the degeneration of political discourse into the manipulation of these 30 second ads fed by massive sums made on Wall Street.

Brown repeatedly returned to the need for government regulation, saying the financial meltdown and the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico both represent a set of Republican policies that is reflected in Whitman and Poizner’s desire to roll back AB 32 environmental regulations and to cut taxes for the richest Californians, policies he said he would resist.

They want to reduce taxes on the wealthiest people in the state and how’s that going to help you?

They say, ‘we only need police out on the streets,’ well, we need police in the corporate suites just as much because, boy, they can rip you off. Walk down the wrong street, yeah, somebody can hit you over the head and take your money, take your life, well, on Wall Street they really ripped us off…it’s the greatest bank robbery in the history of the United States, maybe the world, $11 trillion – there’s 11 trillion fewer dollars, about an 18% reduction in our wealth, that’s a big pay cut for America…

That was promoted by some of the same characters who are promoting these Republicans…We tried no regulation on Wall Street and that caused the biggest crash in the history, not just in this country, but the whole world…You need to rein in greed, you need to rein in risk…and that’s what this campaign is about.

Brown invited questions at the end of his talk, but danced around when asked for specifics about how he would change the tax structure and deal with the budget deficit, except to say he would encourage more “collaboration” between Democrats and Republicans.

He also equivocated when asked whether or not he supported furloughs for state employees to save money in the budget, except to say that he  believes the Republicans are unfairly casting blame on public workers:

They always want a scapegoat. What’s our problem? They say, ‘well, it’s the public employees, it’s the teachers, it’s the police, it’s the fire.’ No it isn’t – it’s the Wall Street people who destroyed 11 trillion dollars worth of our wealth. And I don’t know if we should have the same people who profited from that then take the reins of power, and not only have the money but the political power at the same time.

I think we ought to keep them separate and the best way to keep them separate is to separate the two Republicans from any chance of getting to be governor of California.

There were no injuries.

Jean Ross: “The Battle for California’s Future”

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Today the Governor will release his final “May Revision” – the document that updates budget estimates and policy proposals.

Release of the May Revision traditionally signals the end of spring training and the shift of budget season into high gear. And as much as we might have hoped otherwise, we’re not surprised by Schwarzenegger flack Aaron McLear’s statement that the May Revision would include no tax increases and “absolutely terrible cuts.”

Since January, much of the smoke from the smoke and mirrors “solutions” proposed by the Governor has dissipated. The state is likely to receive $3 billion to $5 billion in federal funds – but not the $7 billion unrealistically assumed by the Governor in January.

The state has won some legal challenges to past budget-balancing actions, but lost others. Unrealistic hopes that strong April tax collections would ease pressures on the budget have also dissipated, and the harsh reality of the state’s fiscal situation has begun to emerge from the Capitol fog.

We generally try to avoid hyperbole, but this year, it is fair to say that the battle over the budget that will soon begin is nothing short of a battle for California’s future.

Our public institutions and structures are battered, some near the breaking point.

Per student spending in California’s public schools has fallen so deeply as a result of recent budget cuts that we now trail the rest of the country by a greater margin than at any point in the last 40 years. Student fees have more than doubled in less than a decade in the California State University and University of California systems and more increases are in store, while 2009-10 budget cuts closed the door to the CSU and UC for nearly 20,000 students.

Cash assistance grants have been cut to 1989 levels and purchase half what they did 20 years ago at a time when one out of every seven mothers in the labor market finds herself without work.

While a litany of budget facts can be mind-numbing, they are also informative. The state is on track to spend $18 billion less this year than it did just two years ago – yet an almost identical gap remains. Just how large is that gap? Almost exactly equal to what the state spends annually for prisons and all higher education from community colleges to the UC and CSU and student aid.

By taking revenues off the table, the Governor places California firmly on a fast track race to the bottom. The glory days of California’s past were the direct result of investments in public structures from schools to transportation and health care. The state has not, and cannot, compete in a global economy with a workforce made up of individuals who were homeless or lacked health care as children and who were turned away from college as young adults.

By taking revenues off the table, the Governor also ignores one of the two major causes of California’s current budget crisis.

While the still-pervasive impact of the economic downturn is certainly the primary source of our current fiscal woes, over the longer term, a systematic erosion of state revenues – the $10 billion plus annual cost of tax cuts enacted over the past 15 years – ensures that the state faces bad budget times even when the economy is strong.

This last point bears mentioning, since the Legislature kicked off this year’s budget battles by digging an even deeper hole, approving hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax breaks on top of the billions of dollars of tax cuts enacted as part of the 2008 and 2009 budget agreements. All of which brings to mind the cover art from an old New Yorker in which artist Edward Sorel reserves the deepest ring of hell for “politicians who promised to cut taxes and balance the budget.”

There will be no happy ending to this year’s story.

The problem is too big and the options available just too few. However, there can be a better ending than the one promised by the Governor’s spokesperson. Craft the inevitable spending cuts so that they preserve the core capacity of the structures and policies that have served California well in the past.

Start the state on the path towards doing what it should and must do right: building a healthy future and providing a safety net for those who need one when all else fails. Go back to Washington, again, hand-in-hand with governors and lawmakers from around the country to make the point that prominent economists have made: state and local budget cuts threaten to derail an already fragile economic recovery.

Finally, the Legislature should admit that it made a mistake and roll back recent dark of night tax cuts. Lawmakers should also close loopholes in the sales tax that reward businesses that don’t create a single job in California and allow resource extractors to go untaxed.

So as the battle begins, the question remains: if this is a battle for California’s future, who’s going to fight for the future?

Jean Ross is the executive director of the California Budget Project, a Sacramento-based non-profit research group.

Brown at Google: The Value of Being Random

Monday, April 12th, 2010

We were innocently sitting in the front row the other day, listening to Attorney General Jerry Brown’s “fireside chat” (sans hearth or fire) with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, when Brown demonstrated once again why he is the most intriguing  character in California, and perhaps American, politics.

And why – if he can reach enough of them – he is capable of making  himself popular with the well-educated, middle-of-the-road, moderate, non-partisan, younger and middle-age voters who are the fulcrum of electoral victory in California.

Asked by Schmidt – whose questions were as smart and penetrating as any experienced political writer could ask – whether his “progressive” ideas from the 1970s and ‘80s are still relevant, Brown pointed to his interest then and now in renewable energy sources.

“At that time, we were talking about solar hot water. Now we’re talking about solar photovoltaic. But it’s the same thing — the introduction of new ideas,” he said.

“California is a state of imagination. And imagination is what we need to get out of the bind. We need to change the design. We need to introduce new ideas, and, quite frankly, I’ve always been interested in the creative mind.”

He then mentioned a teacher he’d once had, whom he later appointed as a regent of the University of California, and who had inscribed for Brown in one of his books, “The new comes out of the random.”

“The new comes out of the random,” Brown repeated with a smile. “I’ve been thinking a lot about that. Some people think I’m a little random. But unless you’re open to possibilities, you rarely come up with something new. If you are rigidly programmed, if you’re managing what is, you can’t create what really needs to be.”

Brown’s reference, Calbuzz learned later, was to “Mind and Nature,” by Gregory Bateson, the brilliant British anthropologist and systems theoretician (and former husband of anthropologist Margaret Mead), whom Brown, then 40, put on the Board of Regents at age 74 in 1978, where he served until his death in 1980.

“The immediate task of this book is to construct a picture of how the world is joined together in its mental aspects,” Bateson wrote in 1979 in “Mind and Nature.”

How do ideas, information, steps of logical or pragmatic consistency, and the like fit together? How is logic, the classical procedure for making chains of ideas, related to an outside world of things and creatures, parts and wholes? Do ideas really occur in chains, or is this lineal (see Glossary) structure imposed on them by scholars and philosophers? How is the world of logic, which eschews “circular argument,” related to a world in which circular trains of causation are the rule rather than the exception?

As if to prove Bateson’s theory of “circular trains of causation,” Brown described an important evolution in his thinking about the value of legislation.

Noting that he had “started a law called the Political Reform Act of 1974,” he later had the experience, as mayor of Oakland, of finding that “there was one of the provisions that would have stopped me from promoting economic growth.

“So I went to court and actually had part of the law that I wrote invalidated,” he said. “I think it’s a very salutary experience to both make laws and unmake them all in the same lifetime. Because, you see, every law has unintended consequences.”

To which, he later added:

Another thing I didn’t appreciate as governor, — ‘cause each governor signs about 800 to 1,000 new laws a year — and when you pass a law, somebody’s got to enforce that darned thing. It isn’t just “Do good.” It’s, “If you don’t do good, you can get sued and go to jail or pay a tax.”

And as attorney general, my office is often called upon to enforce these laws.
And businesses run afoul of many of them. And there’s just tens of thousands of ‘thou shalt not.’ And the density and the reach of the invasive, minute prescriptions is breathtaking. I’ve developed a very healthy distaste for legislation.

Now, with Jerry Brown one never knows (do one?) whether what he says will have any relationship to what he will do.

He ran for president not long after winning the chairmanship of the California Democratic Party; he decided to run for governor after telling people he wouldn’t leave his post as Attorney General. He was against Proposition 13 before he was for it. In one presidential campaign he wouldn’t take contributions over $100 because taking more was a sure sign of corruption; today he’s tapping every fat-cat donor he can find, hoping to have enough to compete against Meg Whitman’s multi-millions.

With Brown, certain commitments are elastic. Or as he told Calbuzz in March: “Adaptation is the essence of evolution. And those who don’t adapt go extinct.”

Still, Brown’s suggestion that he’s learned something about the unintended consequences of legislation has a certain verisimilitude or what Steven Colbert might call truthiness.

In part, that’s because Brown has shaped and observed California politics over so many years that he has an incredibly long (some might say long-in-the-tooth) view.

Asked by Schmidt to discuss the impact of Proposition 13, Brown, who re-iterated his pledge to support no new taxes unless the people vote for them, offered this compelling narrative:

Yeah, Prop. 13 passed in ’78. By the way, it attracted the highest turnout ever for a state primary election. And since that time, almost right afterwards, one ballot measure after another constraining the governor, the legislature, setting down more and more precise rules on how things need to be done

So what you have here is, you have a chess game of government with fewer and fewer moves. And that is driven by the frustration. So people have a widespread disgust at the mechanism of representation. So people then put on the ballot, often special interests, some attractive-sounding measure. And people vote for it.

But the more they embed the system with these constraints, the more difficult it is to perform, and the performance declines, and people want more and more initiatives to correct it. So we’re in a cycle, a rather destructive cycle. And to get out of that, first of all, we need to get beyond that.

And I think the way we need to get beyond it is to make the governing process more transparent, to make the key elements of government, the education, higher and K-12, the prison system, the water, the energy, the roads, the medical care, make those key elements transparent, accessible, understandable so people know, what are their tax dollars going for, what is it doing, and where are the areas where we can modify.

And, quite frankly, I think I can conduct that kind of transparent process that will reconnect the citizenry to their own government, something that I think has very much been lost in recent years.

Who knows if Brown has the skill, the focus, the commitment to actually break that “destructive cycle?” But he absolutely understands a key factor in rendering California ungovernable. Can he convince voters that he can both manage what is and create what needs to be? That’s no random question.

Arnold vs Calbuzz; eMeg’s Ad Buy; Memo to Media

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Calbuzz contributor Susan Rose, in a post filed Tuesday, roundly bashed Governor Arnold, characterizing his tenure as “a combination of insults, bullying, threats and failures.” After the post, David Crane, Special Adviser to Governor Schwarzenegger, asked for a chance to respond:

By David Crane
Special to Calbuzz

Susan Rose’s recent attack on Governor Schwarzenegger shows an utter disregard for facts.

Ms. Rose conveniently left out the single most important fact about the state budget, namely that explosive growth in government-employee compensation is responsible for crowding out spending for all those social programs she favors.

As one example, from 2003-2010, retirement benefit costs took more than $25 billion away from higher education, parks & recreation, environmental protection, health & human services and other important programs.  As another example, the per employee cost of compensation nearly doubled over the last ten years, stripping money from programs.

All of these costs were cemented into place by contracts and legislation passed by the last administration.  Governor Schwarzenegger has fought mightily to reform those contracts and legislation but legislators in hock to special interests refuse to budge.

Ms. Rose’s column is just another example of non-fact-based partisanship designed to fulfill the wishes of one special interest or another.  The real fact is that the only way to protect programs is by reforming government employee compensation.   While Ms. Rose is happy to raise taxes in order to keep paying more to government employees, Governor Schwarzenegger is not.

Actions speak louder than words. When Ms. Rose is ready to do something about the damage being caused by out-of-control government employee compensation it’ll be time to listen to her.

All eMeg All the Time: The Calbuzz Department of Dumpster Diving & Green Earth Recycling has stumbled upon an internal report from Meg Whitman’s campaign which details the size and reach of her current advertising buy, which can be described in two words: Holy Cow.

The campaign’s Gross Rating Point report, measuring total delivery of the current week’s broadcast ad schedule in 11 markets in California, shows that eMeg’s buy is comparable to what a fully-loaded campaign might ordinarily deliver in the closing weeks of a heated race – not three months before a primary that she’s prohibitively leading.

“These are some big fuckin’ numbers,” said Bill Carrick, the veteran Democratic media consultant after reviewing the report. “She’s buying the whole shebang.”

As a practical matter, 1,000 GRPs a week means that an average TV viewer in a large market would have about 10 opportunities a week to see a Meg Whitman ad;  in smaller markets, with only two or three stations, 700-800 GRPs would be a significant buy. Here’s what the internal campaign report shows she’s doing around the state (N.B. Calbuzz did not independently confirm these numbers):

–Bakersfield 806
–Chico-Redding 603
–Eureka 631
–Fresno-Visalia 986
–L.A. 1,008
–Monterey-Salinas 635
–Palm Springs 806
–Sacramento 984
–San Diego 1,008
–San Francisco 702
–Santa Barbara 929

“With this buy, the chances of not seeing a Meg Whitman spot are pretty slim,” Carrick said.

According to the report, Steve Poizner’s current buy in various markets is a fraction of eMeg’s – ranging from 15 to 50 percent – which seems in the ballpark, based on anecdotal reports from several veteran California media consultants who watch TV incessantly.

One Republican source not affiliated with the governor’s race said he thought the eMeg strategy of going on the air so heavy so early in the campaign might backfire:

“She’s way overdoing it – she’s going to wear out her welcome.”

Meg wears out her welcome: And that’s exactly what the Great Woman did in the East Bay yesterday, when she set off a row with veteran Bay Area political reporters by once again refusing to take any questions – after inviting press coverage of her tour of the Union Pacific Railroad site at the Port of Oakland. Chronicler Carla Marinucci picks up the story:

Then came the news that Whitman also wouldn’t take questions; reporters had been called in to “see” her make statements on “how she could be helpful as governor” on jobs and the economy, Whitman spokeswoman Sarah Pompei said.

Veteran reporters, who included KTVU’s Randy Shandobil and KPIX’s Hank Plante, were among the crowd that wasn’t amused. Question: is Whitman a candidate for governor, or a museum piece to be “watched” by reporters?

Pompei told reporters Whitman said the no press tour was a Union Pacific call — that the company’s officials did not want media coverage. (Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt begs to differ. He just told us that “we planned, actually, to have press talk with Meg on the tour….we understood there would be media availability and we wanted to work with that.”)

Calbuzz last year was among the first to throw a flag on eMeg’s obsessive avoidance of the California press corps as a significant campaign issue. (While Steve Poizner and Jerry Brown have both granted us extended interviews, the ticking clock on our request for a sit-down with Her Megness is now six months, three days and counting).

After Tuesday’s disgraceful performance, it seems clear that there are serious issues of  temperament and judgment – control freak arrogance, fear and contempt for reporters whose job is to serve as the eyes and ears of ordinary voters, for starters – that raise questions about her fitness to handle elected office and public life.

Here’s a suggestion for our campaign trail media colleagues: Don’t reward eMeg’s bad behavior. She’s not the governor, she’s not even the nominee of her party, she is a CANDIDATE for the nomination, and so far she has earned exactly nothing.

If Whitman is unwilling to abide by the norms and forms appropriate to a political campaign, then she should not receive coverage appropriate for candidates who do. Stop running stories on any Whitman events in which she refuses to take questions from reporters. Period.