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Archive for the ‘Dan Walters’ Category



Press Clips: Merc Up, Chron Down, Politicker WTF?

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

kenmclaughlinHats off: Mega-kudos to Ken McLaughlin of the San Jose Mercury News for a smart and solid Sunday package on what California’s wannabe governors say they’d do about the state’s budget meltdown.

Using what Calbuzz likes to call “actual  reporting,” he contacted all five contenders to ask the same set of seven fundamental questions about state finances, ranging from their stance on the two-thirds vote requirement to how they would bridge the partisan gap on fiscal matters.

His report, along with the complete responses he received from four of the campaigns can be found here.

McLaughlin is what was once known as an actual newspaper reporter, who properly avoided eye-rolling at some of the answers he got — leaving the chore of providing truthy context to three of California’s most popular quote machines –- Larry Gerston, Barbara O’Connor and Dan Schnur. But even this trio of go-to chrome domes seemed restrained in their commentary by the limits of the formal newspaper form.

Calbuzz, not so much. Here’s a report card on how the candidates did, from worst to first.

EGBrown3Jerry Brown: F General Jerry figures that everybody already knows who he is, so why should a little thing like California going down the toilet make him bother to break a sweat and respond to a serious newspaper’s serious questions about the crisis? Here’s why: because when the Merc reported seven different times that Brown “declined to answer the questionnaire (saying) that he was on vacation and not yet a declared candidate” it made him look like a jerk.

megcrop1

Meg Whitman: D You’d think with all the money Her Megness is forking out to her army of media retainers, they’d come up with something better than the generic campaign mush they put in her mouth. Example: “Political posturing would be off the table,” she said in answer to how she would ease partisan dysfunction. Really? Off the table? Whoooaa, that’s some tough stuff there, eMeg. Which goes to our oft-expressed concern about her candidacy to date: it’s one big pile of platitudes without a glimmer of political experience, savvy or instinct within it.

GavinNewsomGavin Newsom: C No surprise, Prince Gavin’s answer to everything is, “Come to San Francisco, where I’ve paved the streets with gold.” To his credit, Newsom comes out foursquare in favor of dumping the two-thirds budget vote requirement, but most of his answers are tiresome retreads of his self-congratulatory self-appraisal of his own record. Until the Chronicle favors us with some perspective on his claims (see next item) California voters are on their own to figure out how much of it’s true.

Steve Poizner: B Poizner mostly offered warmed-over campaign rhetori126719_poizner_GMK_c but two things stand out: 1) unlike Meg, he doesn’t lay the solid waste on with a trowel, and also seems to understand he isn’t getting paid by the word; 2) alone among the candidates, he talks specifically about ways and means to modernize and apply basic management techniques to government that don’t begin and end with Attila the Meg-style reflexive cutting and wholesale firings.

tomcampbell1Tom Campbell: A Dudley Do-Right does it again, emerging as the best-informed, most thoughtful and most candid one of the bunch. Campbell’s economics intelligence is buttressed by his sweat-the-details understanding of the fine strokes of public finance. A former Director of Finance, he has proposed a serious and balanced approach to addressing the deficit in both the long and short term, and his answers to the Merc put the rest of the field to shame.

Chronicle Watch II: Still MIA - Prince Gavin sent out a release the other day announcing a major campaign swing through Southern California and making the case for himself this way:

“Mayor Newsom announced his candidacy for governor earlier this year by releasing an online video on GavinNewsom.com that ties his record of success as mayor to his vision for California’s future.

“’In San Francisco, we’ve not accepted excuses. We’ve protected people’s civil rights, created a universal health care program, protected teachers from layoffs and enacted a local stimulus plan that will put people back to work and save jobs. And we’ve done it while balancing our budgets and seeing our bond ratings go up.”

No knock on Newsom for peddling this self-aggrandizing narrative wheeze – it’s what political candidates do. But, as Colombo would say, there’s just one thing that keeps botherin’ us: Are Newsom’s claims true? If so, to what extent? If not, where’s the evidence to disprove them?

Unfortunately the one and only institution in a position to easily address the issue is the Chronicle, Newsom’s hometown daily paper, which has spent years covering the guy, but doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to answer the key political questions anytime soon.

By giving Newsom a pass now, effectively granting him a big ole’ summer fling in the Free Spin Zone, Chron editors are missing an opportunity for important public service journalism, booting a chance to show they’re still a vital statewide voice and reinforcing the notion that newspapers are too clunky and slow to help define swiftly emerging narratives of a crucial, nationally-watched campaign.

When Calbuzz delivered a gentle love tap last week, chiding the paper for ducking its responsibility to examine their own mayor’s extravagant claims, the High Sheriffs of their newsroom got into High Dudgeon about our post, putting on frightful frowns and hurling personal insults at Calbuzz: “So much for journalistic integrity,” one senior editor sniffed at the buzz boys, in an email distributed to staff.

Sticks and stones backatcha, chief, but the plain fact is, this ain’t about integrity – it’s about Journalism 101.

The job of calling balls and strikes on a hometown candidate who’s seeking to spring up the political ladder comes with the territory for what you like to call your major metropolitan newspapers. And for years, under the leadership of recently departed politics editor Jim Brewer, the Chron often performed that duty better than most.

Back in 1990, when another S.F. mayor was running for governor, the paper helped pioneer the “truth box,” that now-routine, campaign watch graphic that helps voters measure the veracity of a candidate’s TV ads. Over the years, they’ve regularly published other, useful fact-checking features following debates, major speeches or campaign appearances by candidates and officeholders at every level.

Because this Internets thing has changed everything about campaigning – most notably the pace and speed with which claims, counterclaims and charges fly around – that kind of reporting is more than important than ever.

So why in 2009, three months after the city’s mayor formally announced his bid to be California’s next chief executive, trumpeting his record in San Francisco as evidence of his worthiness, has the Chronicle not published a single piece that simply lines up Newsom’s campaign trail statements about an issue and submits them to the truth test?

At a time when the state is in crisis, teetering on the edge of financial failure, and their guy is telling everyone he meets that he can fix it, inquiring minds want to know.

Earth to Chris Reed: Calbuzz lists Politicker on our blogroll because we enjoy the work and work ethic of Chris Reed, who proclaims his site “America’s Finest Blog” and juices the predictable conservative cant of his frequent rants with a lively, passionate, hair-on-fire style that’s fun to read and often informative.

And while we usually subscribe to the just-spell-the-name-right school of publicity (that’s two z’s in buzz, mister), we must confess we’re bemused, if not bewildered, by his out-of-right-field attack on our post about a recent PPIC report that undercuts the Republican claim that high taxes are driving rich people out of California. Reed’s rant, which purports to show how the PPIC is “disputing” our report is based on a willful, agenda-driven misreading of what we said and his pique at our failure to confirm his own view of the world:

“(When) I read the actual short report…I didn’t see what I expected,” he writes, in accusing Calbuzz of journalistic crimes and misdemeanors. Huh? And this would be our problem, why?

To be safe, we put in our own call to PPIC to ask if we’d gotten something wrong, and to confirm the obvious: that Politicker was simply trying to conjure up a controversy to drive traffic: “We don’t see any dispute about the results of our research as published” in Calbuzz, a spokeswoman told us. “Interpretation and headline writing are what you do, and we aren’t going to get in the middle of that. But we’re delighted to see our work scrutinized and discussed.” Us too!

Must read of the week: If you can read only one California budget story this week (and why would you want to read more?) make it Dan Walters’ Tuesday column,  which strips the fiscal meltdown down to its essence in 492 plain and simple words. The big fella’ may have lost a few feet off the fastball, but he can still bring it when he needs to.

Red-Blue Clash Emerges in 21st Century Commission

Monday, July 13th, 2009

fred keeley_0102The Commission on the 21st Century Economy, headed by Schwarzenegger pal and Republican bigwig Gerald Parsky, has been developing a plan to overhaul California’s tax system that includes flattening personal income tax rates and broadening the sales tax, as loyal Calbuzz readers know.

Instead of achieving the consensus sought by Parsky,  however, the commission faces an ideological (and factual) conflict at its meeting in San Francisco on Thursday, as liberal members are now proposing an alternative plan. Their draft proposal, among other things, rejects as too regressive a flat income tax system, and also suggests amendments to Proposition 13.

The commission’s Blue Wing (as in blue state/red state) is questioning underlying assumptions of the Red Wing flat-taxers, like: 1) Is California actually unfriendly to business? 2) Are jobs and businesses actually fleeing California? 3) Does improving competitiveness demand elimination of the progressive tax system and the sales tax?

The introduction of the Blue Plan has already raised partisan political hackles between appointees of the Republican governor and those of Democratic legislative leaders.

Former GOP Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle, in a letter obtained by Calbuzz, accused former Democratic Assemblyman Fred Keeley, one of the leaders of the liberal wing of  “crafting a plan in private” and end running commission procedures with “an 11th hour presentation.”

“Why shouldn’t every commissioner gather their respective philosophical mates and assemble and submit competing plans in the weeks and even the months ahead,” Pringle said.

But Keeley, now the Treasurer of Santa Cruz County, insisted he has honored commission procedures, and has been raising similar issues in meetings since March.

boskinThe conservative Red Wing, led by Parsky and Michael Boskin of Stanford, previously had hoped that their plan was on track for recommendations to flatten and simplify the income tax, eliminate the business tax and create a net receipts tax, like a European value added tax, to replace the sales tax.

But after the elements of that idea – which became known as the Red Plan — were well-publicized and thoroughly examined by the commission’s staff, the liberal wing on the commission, led by Keeley and Christopher Edley, dean of the Boalt Hall School of Law, came forth with an alternate Blue Plan.

Still in draft form, their plan would:
– Require that all state revenues that are 5% or higher than Department of Finance estimates be placed in a rainy day reserve fund.
– Make no change to personal income taxes, but reallocate capital gains tax revenue, with one-third going to the General Fund; one-third to debt and retirement fund payments; and one-third to the reserve fund
– Reduce the sales tax by 2% and expand it to cover, not just goods, but also a wide variety of services.
– Reduce the rate of the corporations tax, but broaden its base by restricting deductions on business losses and rolling back tax breaks for companies that operate outside California
– Subject the controversial business net receipts, or value-added, tax to further study.
– Adopt a pollution surtax on carbon-based fuels
– Amend Prop. 13 elements of the California Constitution to allow local governments (cities and counties) to increase existing local sales tax by up to 1.50% (or any .25% fraction thereof) by a majority vote of its electorate, instead of the currently required two-thirds,.
– Amend Prop. 13 to change the non-residential property tax rate from 1% to 1.50%, effective upon change of ownership, essentially establishing a “split roll” assessment system.

The Blues also would require display of all tax expenditures – special tax breaks, credits, deductions and exemptions – in the governor’s budget, and require them to sunset in no more than five years.

At this Thursday’s meeting at UCSF, the Blue Wing will ask that their proposals be given the same thorough analytical treatment that the Red Wing proposals have received and then be considered at the July 22nd meeting at UCLA.

The Blue Wing rebellion was first reported by Dan Walters of the Sac B-, who suggested the commission is headed for deadlock. That’s certainly possible, given the stark differences in world view commissioners have, but Keeley, for one, isn’t so sure.

He believes the commission can come up with a compromise, Purple Plan that combines elements of the two approaches.

It wouldn’t include a flat tax on income, but it might mitigate some of the brackets and could easily address capital gains. And while it might not replace the sales tax with a net receipts tax (which Michigan has had trouble predicting), it might lower the sales tax rate and broaden its application to services, as many other states have done.

“It depends how deeply people want to hold onto their ideology versus producing a game-changing product,” Keeley said.

Flea Market: Ensign-Newsom Sorry Similarities

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

ensignSex, Lies and Politics: The sordid tale of how Republican presidential wannabe and Nevada Sen. John Ensign had an affair with a campaign aide who happened to be the wife of a senior adviser in his Capitol Hill office  carries unfortunate echoes for Gavin Newsom.GavinNewsom

The San Francisco mayor and wannabe California Governor copped to a dangerous liaison involving an eerily similar triad two years ago, a scandal that came and went in S.F.’s laid back liberal culture, but is likely to resurface in the heat of Newsom’s first statewide campaign. (The GOP has already trotted it out on cable news.)

There is at least one big difference between les affaires politiques, however: Newsom to his credit stood up tall and accepted responsibility when he acknowledged the whole icky mess, while Ensign has spent the days since his admission trying to slime the unfortunate couple, who say their “lives have been ruined,” with shaky allegations of being blackmailed.

That said, the magnitude of the breach of trust involved with both cases is considerable. Former governor and ex-Marine Pete Wilson used to say that being in a political campaign with someone was the closest thing to going through war with them. Some way to treat your foxhole buddy, eh?

More on sex: A sharp-eyed reader opines that Calbuzz misread a recent L.A. Times analysis examining the impact of sex scandals involving Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa on the governor’s race; we characterized the piece as kissing off the importance of the political playboys’ wandering, um, eyes, but Cathy Decker’s nut graf, buttressed by an academic study, states that it will truly matter to some voters. Busted.

boxerangryBoxer Rebellion: Barbara Boxer’s snippy insistence that a military officer address her as “Senator” instead of “Ma’am,” – “I worked so hard to get that title” – offers a good measure of how fiercely she intends to fight to keep it.

Although we keep reading speculation about how formidable and well-financed former Silicon Valley executive Carly Fiorina will be as a Republican challenger when (if?) she finally gets into the arena, Boxer got a nice boost from an unlikely source this week when Steve Forbes, the erstwhile GOP presidential contender and silver spoon publisher bashed Fiorina is his new book, “Power Ambition Glory.”

“Examples of business leaders who rise to heights of corporate power only to be brought carly_fiorina_630xdown by their egos include…Carly Fiorina, former head of Hewlett-Packard,” Forbes writes. “As leaders of corporate empires, both failed because they focused on what flattered, instead of what mattered.”

There’s more: Fiorina was “high-handed,” “brusque” and “concerned more with publicizing herself and socializing with entertainers and high-fashion figures than with promoting HP and running the business.

“There were even rumors that she was positioning herself to run for political office.”  Imagine that.

Thanks to Calbuzzer CA Politech for the cites.

We Get Letters: Big Bad Dan Walters cries “foul” over our Fishwrap item that trashed the California press for whiffing on the no-go fed rescue of the state budget story. BeeDan sniffs at a WashPost piece we highlighted as “old news,” and forwards his column from May 22 saying “the Obama Administration said it couldn’t underwrite loans (for California) without congressional authority.”

Fair enough, but his column was referencing public congressional testimony, constructed with Clintonian obfuscatory precision (or precisely Clintonian obfuscation) by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner; the new Post piece advanced the ball considerably, reporting private White House meetings involving Obama’s big brain troika of Geithner, Lawrence Summers and Christina Romer…

Comment of the Week: Buddyg takes home a coveted “I’m a Calbuzzer” button for his calbuzzertake on our latest post on Senator Difi’s shifting position on the Employee Free Choice Act. As winner of our first Calbuzz Comment of the Week, he also gets his comment highlighted in full:

DiFi has always been too MOR for this state, on too many issues. In this case, she is also naive if she thinks there is a compromise that will give even ‘half a loaf’ to both sides.

There can be no denying that federal labor law is broken and employers regularly take advantage of that when resisting union campaigns and collective bargaining negotiations.

Simply put, the cost and consequences of violating the law are just not substantial enough to make it worthwhile for employers who don’t care about workers’ rights to comply. That is the reality, and has to be the analytical starting point, which of course, the Cs of C of the world will deny forever.

Until DiFi gets over the idea of (dis)pleasing everyone and realizes there is a right and a wrong on this, she will continue to be pressured. It would be fitting and just for labor to mount a campaign to knock her out of the box, and take Arlen Specter with her!”

– By Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine

Surf’s Up: We Read This Stuff So You Don’t Have To

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

surferNeed to get away? Amid the endless sky-is-falling media situationers on the budget mess published elsewhere, sometime Calbuzzer Greg Lucas looks closely at Arnold’s new alternatives and concludes that Demos will find about $15 billion worth of politically palatable moves there – enough to get them 70 percent of the way to the gov’s worst-case $21B scenario…

As one door closes: One of the all-time top 10 clichés in the Political Writer’s Handbook is that every crisis represents both risks and opportunities. Over at Flashreport, our friend Jon Fleischman manages to be positively Reganesque about the big chance for change presented by the budget mess, in a nice piece that combines the usual bromides about markets with compassionate concern for the folks who will be hurt. Meanwhile The Economist brings big picture perspective to Tuesday’s election, concluding that only a constitutional convention aimed at rebuilding state government from scratch can save “ungovernable” California.

Michelle Speaks: Calbuzzer Jessica Trounstine stirred up a lively debate here about UC Merced a couple days, using Michelle Obama’s commencement address as a point of departure. For those who missed the First Lady’s actual speech Huffpost has complete text and video here.

Conspiracy Theorist Alert: Not sure what it means but Barron’s reports that liberal uber money man George Soros recently took a stake in Houston-based PXP, the oil company that would benefit from the gov’s bid to approve a new offshore drilling lease in Santa Barbara.

Calbuzz gets results: The NYT discovers the California governor’s race in a dozy rehash that’s mostly notable for the fact that it’s the first major MSM piece on the campaign that doesn’t even mention the possibility that Difi will run. Calbuzz gets results!

Forest and the trees: Big Bad Dan Walters has a good one that argues persuasively that California is largely responsible for triggering the global banking crisis and puts in appropriate context the pathetic “fantasyland” effort by GOP legislators to solve the state’s economy woes with a couple cheesy bills about business regulations.

Mad Dog Poizner Strikes Again

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Steve Poizner has yet to spend a dime from his multi-million-dollar bank account opposing Proposition 1A on TV, but the Insurance Commissioner was once again seeking free media Monday, attacking Attorney General Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for backing the May 19 election measure.

“Jerry’s endorsement has reminded us that the tired Sacramento status quo offers insincere excuses instead of real results when it comes to ending the state’s structural budget deficit,” said Poizner, who so far not has not articulated a genuine solution of his own to California’s budget mess.

“Using bankruptcy as a scare tactic is just an excuse for lack of leadership,” Poizner added, in attacking Villaraigosa, who predicted Friday that the state could go broke if Prop.1A fails. “The financial integrity and budgeting process of this state is already bankrupt.”

Pretty boilerplate stuff except for one thing:

How come Poizner skipped over San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who also supports Prop.1A? Was this an oversight, a tactical decision or a snub?

None of the above, insisted Poizner spokesmouth Kevin Spillane, citing the timeliness of Villaraigosa’s comments, made Friday, and Brown’s, reported Saturday in calbuzz.

Besides, he said, “At this point, they (Brown and Villaraigosa) are the top two Democratic candidates. We’ll be having fun with Gavin in the future. And we just wanted to get out there and promote calbuzz.” (Sounds okay to us).

So the omission of Newsom was a kind of a snub. And given that the Field Poll shows nearly four in 10 Democrats and independents have no opinion about Newsom, why waste too much time making him better known?

But why hasn’t Poizner or Megabucks Meg Whitman , the former eBay auctioneer in chief, spent any of their millions to rail against Prop. 1A – and get themselves known statewide — on TV?

“Everyone’s in such a hurry! All in due time,” Whitman mouthpiece Rob Stutzman told us in an email. “Keeping our options open in 1A.”

Said Spillane: “It’s still up in the air. A million here, a million there – it adds up. . . At the end of the day, it’s not my money.”

All of which lends credence to speculation by estimable SacB columnizer Dan Walters who wondered in print the other day: “Could it be that Whitman and Poizner are denouncing the measures to gain traction with GOP conservatives but secretly want them to pass to make their hoped-for governorships easier? An old saying reveals the answer: Money talks while B.S. walks.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, big guy.