Archive for the ‘Darrell Steinberg’ Category



Sifting the Detritus of the CA Dem Convention

Monday, April 19th, 2010

It’s a measure of the small bore political stakes of the California Democratic Party convention that the weekend’s only drama played out over an inconclusive fight for the party’s endorsement in an internecine contest for lieutenant governor — a conflict over a second-tier office that has far more to do with personalities than policy.

During a two-day convention when one officeholder after another pleaded with 3,000 activists to match the passion of the conservative Tea Party movement in the 2010 campaign, the convention remained a mostly sedate affair, with delegates wistfully recalling the sense of purpose in President Obama’s historic 2008 victory, while trying to get excited about candidates for insurance commissioner and lieutenant governor, ferhevensakes.

“At this point, I think the polls are showing that there is more enthusiasm with the tea party (movement)” Senator Barbara Boxer candidly told reporters, “and I think it is absolutely a fact that we have to match that enthusiasm.”

This just in: in the long-awaited balloting in the Lite Gov’s race, S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom out-polled L.A. City Council member Janice Hahn, 52-to-42. According to a furious exchange of late-night spinning memos eblasted by the two camps, this was either a great victory for Hahn, for denying her rival the 60 percent needed for the endorsement, or a key tactical win for Newsom, who skunked his foe in her own back yard.

Zzzzzzz.

As a practical matter, the question of how much energy and enthusiasm the Dems can muster  — in a non-presidential election year, when the political winds now strongly favor Republicans, when the Donkey Ticket is led by two old war horses, aged 69 and 72, and when the GOP’s statewide entry is led by an Empire Strikes Back campaign bristling with more money than God -– will be a major factor in determining the size and make-up of the November electorate.

When handlers for Jerry Brown are only half-joking in telling reporters the party’s presumptive nominee for governor just needs to win by one vote, the question of turnout, and whether Democrats can expand the size of their base to pick up a sizable chunk of younger and independent voters, is crucial.

And you have to wonder how forward-thinking comprehensive a strategy the Democrats have for doing so, when party chairman John Burton says he thinks that a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana will be the key to motivating the under-30 crowd to come to the polls.

Brown insists he’s sanguine about his chances against Republican front-runner Meg Whitman, despite her surge in the polls and her clear intent to recycle many of the millions she pocketed from shady dealings at Goldman Sachs and other high-end investments. And, on one level at least, his unruffled display of patience is a reminder that it’s still very, very early in the campaign season – “I only have to win on one day,” he told reporters Saturday.

But facing a likely foe who’s equipped to outspend him by orders of magnitude, Brown faces a stark choice between spending his own resources defending himself over the summer, when either Whitman or fellow zillionaire wannabe governor Steve Poizner will surely be bashing him daily on the airwaves, or hanging on to his pile until fall, when voters will be more engaged.

Brown must hope that at least one of the several Independent Expenditure committees that have popped up with promises to help him – but have so far shown a far greater ability to trash Whitman than to raise cash to beat her – will gain enough traction to mount a serious summer TV campaign to go after the GOP nominee and watch Brown’s back.

IE operatives in the Calbuzz orbit tell us they believe they’ll have the money in place and a plan of attack to mount a TV-radio-internet-bus stop-anywhere-you-frequent campaign that will find like-minded voters — especially independents — during the summer, giving Brown some breathing room to husband resources for the fall. We’ll see.

“The rules of democracy are not changed just because a billionaire decides she wants to be governor,” Brown told Calbuzz. But the rules have changed — and Brown knows it.

Paging Pamela Harriman: In the absence of heavyweight political skirmishes at the convention, the sharpest competition played out over who put on the best party.

Speaker John Perez and Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg tossed the Best Bash for the Masses, with their Saturday afternoon free Taco Truck Throwdown with mobile catering from such favorite as  Calbi Fusion (whose pulled pork was good but hardly Mexican)  and El Principio (which served up a killer carnitas).  Friday’s elegant soiree thrown by the  California Correctional Peace Officers union, with salmon caviar and free booze,  captured top honors in the Intimate Setting Category.

But in the end, Calbuzz can report with complete immodesty, the most entertaining event was the Second Annual Dr. P.J. Hackenflack’s Hack and Flack dinner at Café Pinot, where Brown Himself and heavyweight consultant Garry South got into a cage match battle over electoral strategy at one table, with LA political wheelhouse Donna Bojarsky and political analysts Sherry and Doug Jeffe in the mix. At another table Boxer strategist Rose Kapolcynski, Brown’s Steve Glazer, L.A. premier blogger Kevin Roderick and Laurel Canyon media meisters Julie Buckner and Celia Fischer all compared notes on the political landscape and the chocolate mouse gateau. Other Calbuzzers kicking around strategic insights included poll taker Ben Tulchin and his wife consultant Laurie Biejen,  Kaufman Campaigns’ Richard Stapler, plus reporters from the Chronicle, Media News, KQED and more, who dined on a choice of duo of beef, pan roasted Jidori chicken and Atlantic salmon.

Although Dr. H briefly considered hiring a couple of leg breakers to go after a couple of confirmed guests who were no shows (we know where you live) and one gate crasher, there were no injuries.

Paging Mr. Bartlett: Brown’s three best weird comments of the weekend:

1-“The menu is not the meal,” a big-think overview of where the governor’s race stands today. 2-“I believe in the  papal doctrine of subsidiarism,” a reference to his belief that government authority should be pushed back to locals from Sacramento. 3-”The sherpas will meet soon,” his proposal for a process of arranging debates between him and his Republican rivals.

We’re just sayin’: Can the Democratic party staff please arrange for Burton to have a makeover? The unbuttoned red safari shirt look makes him look like a cheesy Vegas weekend low-roller from Cleveland.

Key Questions Emerge as Dem Party Confab Opens

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

As the Calbuzz National Affairs desk settled into our sky box high above the floor of the California Democratic Convention, our battalion of political correspondents buttonholed delegates, honored guests and party hacks alike to answer the 10 key questions looming over the weekend events:

1-Will Jerry Brown manage to stay awake for the Young Democrats party? With Brown’s unopposed stroll to the party’s nomination for governor sucking all drama from the proceedings, Crusty’s job this weekend is to energize the several thousand activists on hand, who are in a grumpy frame of mind because of Meg-a-Million’s fast start on the Republican side. The under-30 set, who weren’t born the last time Jerry was governor but whose enthusiasm will be important come November, are in particular need of wooing; alas they don’t start partying until 9 p.m. tonight, and the 72-year old Brown’s handlers must hope he hasn’t slipped into his jammies by then.

2-Can Dr. H avoid the paparazzi? The second annual Dr. P.J. Hackenflack Democratic Convention Dinner is scheduled for tonight at a hush-hush exclusive location, with a celebrity-packed A list roster of glittering guests. But in the land of TMZ, a fish as big as Dr. H will be hard-pressed to protect his privacy.

3-Will United States Senator Barbara Boxer Herself stalk out when some rude blogger calls her “Ma’am”? At last year’s convention, California’s junior senator looked like a mortal lock for re-election, but things seemed to start to unravel for her when she famously condescended to a top military officer at a committee hearing not long after. Now the episode has become a metaphor for Boxer’s arrogance and sense of entitlement after 18 years in office, amid the worst political atmosphere for arrogant, entitled incumbent Democrats in a generation.

4-Has Jerry improved his salsa steps? The headline act of the weekend is Los Lobos, which will be performing at the L.A. Convention Center on Saturday night. Political observers will be watching closely to see if Brown’s awkward moves have improved from the ’70s when he was kicking it with girlfriend Linda Ronstadt at Lucy’s El Adobe.

5-Will this be Nancy Pelosi’s last state convention as Speaker? Talking to the most liberal crowd outside of Cuba, Pelosi will no doubt be hozannaed to the heavens, if not nominated for sainthood, for her leadership in passing health care reform.  She should enjoy it while she can, since the legislation is viewed considerably less favorably by voters in the districts of dozens of Democratic members, whose defeats could trigger a Republican takeover of the House.

6-Will Mickey Kaus collect any items for his blog? Kaus, the Mr. Crankypants blogger who’s mounted a symbolic centrist challenge to Boxer, has been banned from speaking to the convention by Democratic Party Minister of Annoyance John Burton.  Mickey writes some of the smartest contrarianisms on the web, so hopefully he’ll at least pick up some stuff for his site.

7-How many times will the words “Goldman Sachs” be uttered from the podium? Even before theSEC’s legal move against the giant investment bank on Friday, Goldman Sachs was emerging as a leading villain of coming Democratic rip jobs on eMeg, whose seamy history as a board member challenged the limits of ethics, if not the law. Brown previewed the line of attack late Friday, when he combined a shot at Whitman’s Wall Street connections with her effort to buy the election: “The rules of democracy are not changed just because a billionaire decides she wants to be governor…You can’t have a hostile takeover of the democratic process.”

8-Will Gavin Newsom and Garry South make it pistols at 10 paces? Political consultant South has done some serious trash talking about Prince Gavin, who quit the campaign  for governor that South was running and now is running for Lieutenant Governor, against South’s new client, L.A. City Council member Janice Hahn. The pair got within a few feet of each other at a convention bash last night, but Gavin wouldn’t even look at Garry: “He’s conflict and confrontation averse,” said South.

9-Will anybody top the spread put on by the CCPOA? The California Correctional Peace Officers Association– thank you Michael Flores –  set a high bar with their Friday cocktail party reception honoring Speaker John Perez: salmon-caviar canapés, satay chicken, crab cake balls, fresh shrimp, pot stickers, egg rolls and an open bar. Today’s “Taco Truck Throwdown,” presented by Perez and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg could mount a serious challenge. Rest  assured Calbuzz will be there to do some Actual Reporting.

10-Will live blogging drive traffic or drive away traffic? Calbuzz will be indefatigably bringing every minute of non-stop action from the podium, assuming we get up in time.

P.S. Late Friday Calbuzz stumbled onto an oddity: Newsom’s reception — sponsored and approved by labor unions — was catered by non-union restaurateur Wolfgang Puck.  At first, Calbuzz thought this might have been a bonehead,  rookie mistake at the all-union-all-the-time Demo convention. But it turns out steady hand Cal Strat consultant Jason Kinney, who worked his butt off to organize the event, got the whole deal sanctioned by all the key state and local labor groups. And in fact, the sponsors of the event included the teachers, nurses, faculty and farm workers unions.  On your behalf, Calbuzz tested the martinis and the chocolate at Newsom rival Janice Hahn’s and found them far superior to Puck’s potato chip, red licorice and crudite spread. But, Newsom’s event at the Target Terrace above the Grammy Museum had live entertainment with Lisa Loeb, Benji Madden and Steven Weber while Hahn just had a boom box.

What Sacramento’s Wimpy Democrats Aren’t Doing

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

donkeyWhen Calbuzz bashed the Democrats’ legislative leaders for getting rolled by Arnold and the Reeps in the budget fight, we heard some cries of “foul” from defenders of Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President Darrell Steinberg.

Steinberg spokesman Jim Evans and blogger/analyst Bill Bradley were among those who dropped by Calbuzz to comment on the post, arguing essentially that Bass and Steinberg had cut the best deal possible.

“The budget sucks, of course,” wrote Mr. Crankypants Bradley, “And your real world alternative would be … What?”

A fair enough question, and one we answer with three words of advice for the Democrats: Go on offense.

As a political matter, the plain fact is that the Republicans in Sacramento out-thought, out-maneuvered and out-led the Democrats throughout the budget fight. Despite huge majorities in both houses, the D’s remained in a defensive crouch, constantly reacting to whatever the Republican governor and his allies decided to do, consistently wilting while constantly whining that the two-thirds vote budget requirement made it impossible for them to do more.

No one’s saying that the two-thirds vote doesn’t make life difficult. We’ve argued repeatedly that dumping it is the single most important reform needed to attack dysfunction in Sacramento. But Democrats by now have managed to work themselves into a complete state of psychological paralysis about it.

Instead of aggreselephant-donkey-boxing-thumbsively fighting against the tyranny of the minority, Democrats act like the two-thirds is some unspeakable force of nature, an all-powerful totem before which all must bow down and worship in fear.

Underlying this passive posture are two crippling, if unspoken, assumptions: 1) that policy is somehow separate from politics and 2) that the only reality that matters is that unfolding in the hothouse halls, meeting rooms, chambers, restaurants and saloons of the cul de sac that is Sacramento.

Steinberg, in particular, appears so intent on playing the policy statesman that he seems to have forgotten he’s also a leader of a political party, with plenty of untapped resources available to make recalcitrant Republicans pay a price in their own districts for their stubbornness.

Bass, with her adoring gazes at Schwarzenegger, looks and acts like she’s fallen down the rabbit hole of Sacramento; having lost the perspective that there’s a whole big world outside, she fails to wield the fierce and formidable campaign style weapons at her disposal — money, research, troops and technology — in members’ districts around the state.

The bottom line for Democrats is that, unless and until the two-thirds rule gets rolled back, their last, best hope of prevailing is to start treating their political fights with Republicans as a kind of permanent campaign. Here are five tactics the Dems could use for starters:

1. Bury the petty feuds between the Assembly and Senate and among members. These are a key reason why Democrats never get their act together when they’ve got a Republican governor — at least since the Speaker of the Assembly has become a rotating position. Even when John Burton was President Pro Tem, the Assembly and Senate were constant rivals — a foolish and vain conflict that saps strength from what should be a vital majority party. Sure, term limits have made members crazy, so that everyone’s angling for the next position and looking over their shoulder. But unless the party functions as a power center, majorities in the Legislature aren’t worth a bucket of warm spit.

2. Craft a message. If the Democrats had a clear, consistent and collaborative message in the budget fight, they did a terrific job of keeping it secret. Someone in a position of authority – or a collaborative group — needs to step up and start convening conference calls that include key players – top legislative leadership, John Burton and state party operatives, key Sacramento consultants like Gale Kaufman and Jason Kinney, and maybe even representatives of the gubernatorial candidates – to discuss the news and hash out a simple and coherent message in anticipation or response, to be sounded by every player from every platform so that they start framing the debate and defining the issues.

3. Identify and exploit the weaknesses of individual Republican members. Take a lesson from the way Obama’s White House operates in going after political enemies, like Senator Jim DeMint, or the way the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee attacks vulnerable GOP members in their districts.  Take a hint from Pete Stark, whose interactive map of stimulus spending could be used throughout California Assembly and Senate districts.

Democratic leaders need to put their forces on a war room footing that quickly and constantly spins off web and cable ads, robo calls, earned media opportunities and direct mail ads pointing out exactly what a GOP member’s “just say no” stance means for his district. Flood the zone with truth squads, protests and demonstrations at member’s offices, focusing tightly on the real world impacts to real people – teachers, cops, nurses, service employees, the sick and elderly – of the ideological recalcitrance of GOP assemblymen and senators.

4. Agree on a progressive tax strategy and stick with it. From day to day, the Democrats bounce around about the need for government spending in a recession, embracing a tobacco or liquor tax one day, sales tax reform the next, ending corporate loopholes on yet another. The net effect is to make them look craven and desperate to get their hands on any public money anyway they can, instead of having a coherent strategy of governance that is both progressive and practical, and that speaks to real people.

For starters, develop in depth and detail for the public the arguments for an oil severance tax – it truly is a scandal that California is the only oil-producing state without one – and stick with it instead of folding the first time anti-tax Republicans jump up and go “boo.”’ The tax cut, trickle down theory of government was soundly rejected by Americans in the last election, and Democrats need to stop living in fear that it’s still 1978.

5. Build stronger alliances with the netroots. The most consistent and smartest thinking and writing about progressive politics isn’t happening in Sacramento, but being churned out day after day on sites and by organizations like Calitics, Orange County Progressive, and the California Budget Project. Many Democratic members, just like Calbuzz, may find some of their stuff too lefty, but their reach into communities of interest of political activists makes them invaluable allies in spreading the message about progressive values and reaching critical mass in the battle to shape the political narrative that shapes public opinion.

Surely, professional political operatives in Sacramento can come up with a better list than ours. We’re just a couple of old hacks who’ve watched politics for 60 years or so, and advising partisans isn’t our job. But the next time we take a shot at the Democrats for their feckless and impotent behavior, don’t say we haven’t laid out some alternatives.

Flea Market: Budget Bingo, Babs Growls, Meg Ducks

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

navaBudget winners and losers: While it’s hard to say there were any winners in the latest budget debacle, Democratic Assemblyman – and Attorney General wannabe’ – Pedro Nava certainly scored major political points.

Nava, whose Santa Barbara district would have been directly affected by passage of the governor’s proposed approval of the Tranquillon Ridge offshore oil project, led the push-back against it within the Legislature that resulted in its defeat in the Assembly on a vote of 28-to-43.

A leader of the Coastal Caucus, Nava worked furiously over the last few days to help rally more than 50 environmental organizations to pressure Democrats to oppose the measure, despite some complex internecine politics among coastal protection advocates about the project.

When the deal went down, he’d scored an impressive triumph over Arnold that is certain to raise his visibility and his political stature, as he campaigns for the Democratic nomination for AG against San Francisco D.A. Kamala Harris and a pack of fellow Assembly members.

California BudgetThe list of political losers, much easier to identify in the battle, was led by Senator Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass. They can’t be proud of the front-page photo in Wednesday’s L.A. Times, which pictured them looking almost star-struck, yukking it up with Schwarzenegger as they announced a budget agreement in which he took them to the cleaners. While Steinberg and Bass get all puffed up about how “responsible” and statesmanlike they were in reaching a deal, the plain fact is that they gave away the store in terms of Democratic priorities and values.

Looking at the outcome, it’s hard to believe that the Democrats enjoy huge majorities in both houses; sure the two-thirds vote makes things tough, but the Steinberg-Bass performance of caving in every time the Republicans threaten to hold their breaths until they turn blue strikes Calbuzz as little more than appeasement.

After the shameful spectacle of the Legislature pulling yet another adolescent all-nighter, deciding and disposing of heaps of substantive policy in the dead of night without a pretense of serious deliberation, all Calbuzz can say is: Richie Ross was right. Bring on baseball arbitration.

boxerangry

Babs Blowing It? Politico files an intriguing piece reporting angst, anxiety and concern among Capitol Hill insiders over Sen. Barbara Boxer’s handling of landmark climate change legislation in the Environment and Public Works Committee, which she chairs.

The combination of Boxer’s ideological certainty and personal abrasiveness underscore “the danger of having an outspoken partisan liberal in charge of making the kinds of compromises needed to get cap and trade through the Senate,” write Lisa Lerer and Manu Raju.

“One of the criticisms that comes down on Boxer a great deal is that she takes it to really a very personal level,” said one Democratic staffer.

As a political matter, Boxer’s success or failure in getting a climate change bill through the Senate will have a big impact on her re-election campaign next year. Characteristically, Boxer sees absolutely no merit in the views of those who criticize her performance: “That only revs up my people,” she told Politico.

EGBrown3Mayor Jerry Miracle Worker?: Now that the Chronicle has begun examining Gavin Newsom’s campaign claims about his accomplishments as mayor of San Francisco, the Oakland Tribune, armed with the resources of the mighty Media News chain, will surely want to take a look at what Jerry Brown is saying about his tenure as mayor of that city.

In Brown’s case, his mayoralty is less of a pressing issue since he’s not basing his campaign for governor on his record during those years. Still it’s worthwhile truth testing such statements as, “During his tenure as Oakland mayor, Brown successfully reversed decades of neglect and economic decay and made Oakland one of the top ten green cities in America.”

That’s one of the assertions on the Attorney General’s “Brown 2010” web site.  Other claims: Brown brought “10,000 new residents to the heart of the city” and created “a new urban vitality of art galleries, restaurants and festivals” while “personally” founding the Oakland School for the Arts and the Oakland Military Institute.

Oakland: City of Gold? Inquiring minds want to know.

Historic summit falls in forest: With local governments across California lining up to sue the state over the seizure of some $5 billion in the budget, it’s instructive to note that five hundred local officials, representing the cities, counties and school boards hardest hit by California’s budget mess, managed to slip in and out of Sacramento last weekend and  miraculously escape notice by the hyper-vigilant forces of the political press corps.

The state’s first-ever “Local Government Summit,” organized by a coalition of top-rank advocacy groups*, convened at the Hyatt Regency for two days of working meetings aimed at forging a collective strategy for navigating both the current economic mess and the state’s burgeoning movement for political reform.

“It was the first time in history these groups gathered together,” said Santa Barbara county Supervisor Janet Wolf, who flew in for the event. “It was something like I’ve never been to before.”

Among other briefers, the group heard from Fred Silva of California Forward and Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council, the two organizations pushing the hardest to fix the state’s broken system of governance; the locals also heard about a new Maslin, Maullin and Associates poll on statewide attitudes toward state and local government.

The group concluded by identifying four key reforms on which there was broad agreement – changing term limits, reducing the two-thirds vote requirement for local taxes, requiring ballot initiatives to identify funding sources and protecting local funds from raids by the state, that last an issue that gained considerable importance with the new budget agreement, which seizes some $2 billion in local redevelopment funds, property and gas taxes.

Despite the high stakes for local government in both the budget crisis and reform movement, the summit was blacked out in the media; except for one brief advancer in the Bee’s Capitol Alert feed, the only media coverage we found was in a few small, community papers.**

* (The summit was organized by the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties and the California School Boards Association).

** Timm (Old School) Herdt, the indefatigable Capitol correspondent for the Ventura County Star, notes that he reported the conference, folding his stuff into a Monday situationer on local government outrage about the budget. Calbuzz regrets the oversight.

Hold that line: We’re gushingly grateful to our friends over at Flashreport for their links to our stuff, but respectfully object to the teaser they attached to our recent post about governor wannabe Meg Whitman kicking another gazillion dollars into her campaign: “Clearly these guys don’t like eMeg. LOL.” We like the LOL part all right, but where in the name of Zeus did they ever get the notion we don’t like Her Megness?

mother-teresa

Fact is, we don’t know enough about Whitman to like her or dislike her. She could be the incarnation of Mother Teresa for all we know, since her handlers have spent months rebuffing our efforts to interview their candidate, treating the broken down old newspaper hacks at Calbuzz like the second coming of Woodward and Bernstein. Their stance leads us to employ a journalistic shibboleth straight from the editorial writers handbook: What does Whitman have to hide?

Sure, we’ve proferred eMeg a few gentle love taps, not because of who she is or what she stands for, but precisely because she hasn’t provided enough information about herself or what she stands for so that a reasonable person can make an informed judgment about her. Meg Checchi instead seems determined to float about the gritty give-and-take of politics, air months of ads picturing her with her horse and then parachute into the governor’s mansion as the natural-born heiress to Ronald Reagan.

Why California “Leaders” Can’t Make a Deal

Monday, July 6th, 2009

kittenThe constitutional requirement for a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to pass a budget is clearly the single most important reason why the Capitol is in a state of near-permanent political gridlock. But the two-thirds rule has been around since the New Deal and budgets used to get passed. So what’s the hang-up?

Power: Nobody’s got it.

The governor and the Legislature fulminate and flounder simply because no one in the Capitol in 2009 has the stature, clout or influence to cut a deal like Ronnie and Jesse or Pete and Willie once did.

Strip away all the policy wonkery, weed whacking and egghead analysis  and you find that a combination of term limits and politically-safe, gerrymandered legislative seats has created a political atmosphere in which every legislator is an army of one – and none of them fears the governor, the speaker or any other leader in the Legislature.

mousey“It’s difficult to deliver anything when every member of the legislature is looking over their shoulder,” says Steve Maviglio, former chief spokesman for the Assembly Speaker’s Office and before that for Gov. Gray Davis. “They’re worried about what they’re going to run for and who’s running against them – and that’s within their own caucus. Sometimes, they’re preparing to run against their own seatmates.”

Contrast this year’s with the budget meltdown of 1992, the last time California issued IOUs. Although many of the same conditions applied, the big difference was that both Gov. Pete Wilson and Speaker Willie Brown wielded enough political authority to sit down in a room and cut a deal: Wilson took responsibility for rounding up Republican votes for tax increases and Brown for putting a lid on Democratic caterwauling over program cuts.

Lou Cannon, the Ronald Reagan biographer who covered the Gipper when he was in Sacramento for the San Jose Mercury News, recalls that Reagan and Speaker Bob Moretti negotiated “for 10 straight days” over a budget that eventually included the largest tax increase for any state in history at that time.

Today, says Cannon, “There’s an awful lot of posturing and not much negotiating…these guys are negotiating in the newspapers, the ones that are left anyway, and it doesn’t seem like a real negotiation.”

We have the spectacle of a girlie man governor who flaps his arms and threatens to hold his breath until he turns blue but whom majority Democrats simply cannot trust or count on to deliver a single Republican vote for a deal to which he agrees.

“There’s a massive leadership void,” says one senior Capitol insider. “(Speaker Karen) Bass does everything by consensus. (Senate President Darrell) Steinberg is a rookie and Schwarzenegger can’t deliver any Republican votes and he’s lost interest, if he ever had any.”

Bass, a short-timer like every other speaker since term limits, has truncated authority as an enforcer, as was shown when Assemblyman Juan Arambula of Fresno recently peeled off and went his own way. Add to that the endless series of special elections that leave her a vote or two shy of her total and she lacks standing.

In the Senate, Steinberg has been indefatigable in playing the statesman, but all for naught. Although he’s held his troops together, the Reps simply thumb their noses at him, knowing that their political survival depends, not on results, but simply on the most right-wing stances, which they can sell to win partisan primaries in partisan districts.

The budget becomes a kind of Political World of Warcraft, with taxes on business and slashes to programs for poor people as stand-ins for the armies of the undead and the necromantic power of the plague.

Term limits that hobble political leadership and gerrymandered districts that reward the wing nuts of their respective parties have made compromise nearly impossible.

“The combination of term limits and the lopsided redistricting have made these guys even more remote from the people and their constituents,” says Cannon. “All legislators live in some kind of parallel universe, but these people live in another galaxy.”

A galaxy where the center cannot hold.

– By Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine