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Hot Flashes from Sacramento; Campaign ’18 Update

Friday, April 1st, 2011

When Republican Senate leader Bob Dutton publicly complained that Governor Brown ignored him during budget talks – while First Lady Anne Gust Brown “yelled” at him – most Capitol insiders no doubt had a good laugh at his expense, all the while thinking, “That Bob Dutton – he’s sure a wussy wimp!”

But not Calbuzz.

No, around these parts, the immediate reaction of our Department of Emotional Intelligence and Sensitive New Age Guys was to dispatch a company-wide email urging a corporate show of sympathy for the 60-year old senator.

The reason? The aggrieved Sen. Dutton clearly suffers from one of the most tragic syndromes that can afflict a man: the heartbreak of male menopause.

“The governor never asked for my help,” Dutton told reporters Thursday, doubtless bottling up sobs as he was questioned about the collapse of budget talks. “Frankly, I was yelled at more than I was talked to…and mostly by Mrs. Brown, not even Gov. Brown.”

That really makes our blood boil: What kind of woman does such a thing?

While more insensitive souls than ours instantly and cruelly tried to change the subject back to the state’s $27 billion deficit – “the dog barked at him, too,”  stone-hearted Brown flack Gil Duran said, for example – the alter cockers in our newsroom understand only too well the hurt and pain that come when other people ignore our emotional needs at a time of life when we’re at our most vulnerable.

So on behalf of those, like Dutton, who have suffered in secrecy, shame and silence for far too long, we offer some important information in hopes of building public awareness:

What are the Symptoms of Male Menopause?

Male menopause symptoms are very similar to those experienced by women during menopause, only much less intense. Common menopause symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, muscle and joint aches. Men also suffer from emotional symptoms like mood swings,  irritability, depression, and listlessness. (emphasis ours).

The primary treatment…is Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT). Like estrogen replacement in women, testosterone replacement aims to bring hormonal levels back up to a healthy level. Once testosterone levels are increased, most men begin to experience fewer symptoms. Unfortunately, testosterone replacement doesn’t always work well to combat erectile dysfunction. Because this is such a severe symptom for most men, other treatments for erectile dysfunction should be investigated.

Take heart, Senator Dutton, and please, get some help – it doesn’t have to be this way. And know that you’re not longer any more alone any longer.

We had to destroy the party in order to save it: Dutton’s little hissy fit highlights the utter inability of the current crop of California Republican leaders to see the big picture about their ongoing demise as a viable political party in the state.

Handed their biggest opportunity in years to achieve some cherished policy goals, Republicans instead snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and came away from budget negotiations with zilch.

Witnessing this sorry spectacle, one mad dog GOP blogger, of course, thumped his chest and did a little touchdown dance (“there is NO public policy trade off that makes it okay to then vote to place taxes onto a special election ballot”). Less, um, excitable party types (also less prone to using CAPITAL LETTERS TO MAKE THEIR POINT), have a different view, as the LAT’s Halper and Mishak ably report:

After the collapse of those negotiations, many in the Capitol are asking whether, in declining to provide those four “ayes,” the Republicans have cemented their fate as a dying minority party in this largely Democratic state.

“These opportunities don’t come up too much in Sacramento,” said Bill Whalen, a GOP political consultant who was an advisor to former Gov. Pete Wilson.

“If I’m the Republicans … I would argue for a minimalist approach,” he said. “Be able to declare victory and retreat. … That should have been part of the calculus.”

Or not.

In addition to the Republicans, however, our friend George Skelton sees plenty of blame to go around, listing for starters Brown’s kow-towing to labor and the apparent belief of state union goons that they, alone, should be spared from any budget pain, a pox-on-all-your-houses-view made manifest today by Calbuzz cartoonist Tom Meyer.

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A leisurely stroll through the 11th hour, 53-point list of demands that Dutton presented to Brown when a deal was close, however, makes clear that giving equal weight to Krusty’s serious effort to find a compromise acceptable to Republicans on pension reform and the GOP’s unwavering irresponsibility about the state’s finances is a big-time false equivalence.

Moreover, for the CA GOP to complain now that Brown broke off negotiations — after they damn near adopted a resolution to castrate any legislator who even considered negotiating with Brown — is just nuts.

Campaign ’18 update: Lite Gov Gavin Newsom’s political advisers are miffed over a blind source item that the Chronicle’s Matier and Ross proffered the other day, reporting that Lt. Starbuck is already gearing up to run for governor.

Only weeks after Calbuzz waved the starter flag on the most important political race in California — the 2018 Democratic primary for governor — the paper’s gold dust twins tried to speed up the pace even more:

Less than three months on the job, and already Gavin Newsom is prepping to run for governor again.

A city insider who asked not to be named tells us the new lieutenant governor approached him at a charity fundraiser the other day with a request for help to start raising money for a renewed gubernatorial bid…

Newsom has opened a re-election campaign committee for 2014 – but there’s nothing to stop him from transferring any money he might raise to an exploratory gubernatorial run.

“The Matier and Ross item is silly,” counters Jason Kinney, Newsom’s political adviser. “They’re finding a story where none exists.”

Kinney, who oddly wasn’t quoted in the M&R column, told us he’s been in most of the meetings Newsom has had with political supporters, where the good lieutenant has made the point that he needs to put a political operation together for his re-election.

When Newsom’s asked, Kinney acknowledged, he discusses future options — like governor, Senate, whatever – as any other pol would do. But Newsom always makes clear that he will never run against Jerry Brown, Dianne Feinstein or Barbara Boxer, he added: “He’s talking about future plans — six, eight, ten years down the road.”

Gavin for Senate in 2028!

(Secret P.S. memo to Newsom: Dude, what’s with that whole unbuttoned second button thing, anyway? What’s next — tying up your shirttails to show off your midriff?)

Starbuck vs. The Empress; Oligarchs On Wisconsin

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

There are any number of garden-variety, Beltway sages and seers ready and willing (if not able) to opine  on the 2012 presidential campaign — but  only Calbuzz offers prognostication on what concerns our readers most: the 2018 Democratic nomination race for  governor.

Sticking to their previous prognosis that a second-term Governor Gandalf will still be doing pull-ups at 80 (as well as their prediction that California Republicans by then will be scarcer than snowy plovers), our Department of Logarithmic Forecasting and Necromantic Foreboding confirms that the  intraparty gubernatorial brawl between Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom will be the key race to watch that year.

“We can predict a Harris-Newsom contest with a 98.6% level of confidence,” said our public opinion research chief, Marc DiCassare. “We further forecast that the state deficit at that point will be $4.65 trillion.”

Today, Calbuzz presents the first in an occasional series of special reports updating the race between Lieutenant Starbuck and the Empress of River City. At a time when the electorate is  beginning to form its crucial first impression, we examine how they are introducing themselves to Californians, based mostly on a hard-hitting analysis of the constant stream of press releases churned out by their taxpayer-financed flacks.

January 18:

Harris: Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Announces Settlement on Comcast- NBC Merger with Protections for Consumers, Competition and Innovation

“Settlement gives California authority to provide oversight on $30 billion telecommunications joint venture.”

Newsom:Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom Launches Statewide Discussion on California’s Higher Education System

“Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom today announced the launch of a statewide higher education listening tour and an online campaign that will engage Californians in a public dialogue, seeking their feedback and suggestions on issues relating to the state’s higher education system.”

February 2 – 3

Harris:Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Establishes California Foreclosure Relief Fund with $6.5 Million Settlement from Former Countrywide Financial Executives

LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced a $6.5 million settlement of a predatory lending case against Angelo Mozilo and David Sambol, former officers of Countrywide Financial Corporation. Attorney General Harris announced the settlement money will be used to establish an innovative statewide California Foreclosure Crisis Relief Fund to combat the effects of California’s high rates of foreclosure and mortgage delinquency.”

Newsom:Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom Issues Statement on Lunar New Year

Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom issued the following statement today regarding Lunar New Year:

‘To everyone across California and the world who is celebrating the arrival of the Lunar New Year today, Jennifer and I want to extend our best wishes for a prosperous and healthy Year of the Rabbit.’”

Feb. 14-16

Harris:Harris: Suspects Arrested in Murder-for-Hire Plot Commissioned by Mexican Drug Cartel

PALMDALE – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced the arrest today of three suspects in a foiled murder-for-hire plot commissioned by a Tijuana drug cartel.”

Newsom: Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom Sends Letter to Joint Legislative Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture in Support of the Marine Life Protection Act.”

February 21-22

Harris:Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Supports Port of Los Angeles Program to Reduce Air Pollution and Cancer Risk

LOS ANGELES – Seeking environmental justice for all Californians, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case in support of efforts by the Port of Los Angeles to reduce air pollution through its Clean Trucks program.”

Newsom: “Apple dish: A spy in Manhattan tells us he ran across Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom last weekend shopping for ties in the men’s department at the swank Bergdorf Goodman store.

Newsom’s office confirms the couple did take a “private trip” back East last week for the screening of Jennifer’s new documentary, “Miss Representation.” They also attended a showing of new designers at New York’s semiannual Fashion Week.” (h/t Matier and Ross).

Astute analysis: At this point, it’s not really a fair fight.

Not only does the AG have, you know, an actual job, but her public story is largely being told by the wily James A. Finefrock III, chief flack for the Department of Justice and a battle-hardened veteran of the throwback Chron-Ex War of Words; Starbuck’s pub shop meanwhile thinks it’s a cool idea to e-blast a press release wishing everyone Gung Hay Fat Choy.

(Calbuzz training tip for the young ‘uns:  carefully study this video of your guy’s famous interview with our old friend Hank Plante, then make Gavin start doing everything exactly the opposite).

Round 1 bottom line: Harris +4.

On Wisconsin: There are exactly two words to describe the sickening spectacle of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s vicious move against  public employees in the Cheesehead State: Union Busting.

Walker is one of the favorite, lickspittle running dogs of the Koch Brothers, the greedhead polluters and social Darwinists who are the most visible players in the ultra-rich, right-wing effort to make oligarchy the law of the land in the U.S.

Not content that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans have grabbed nearly 25% of its wealth, thanks to decades of tax cuts for the wealthy and increasingly profitable banks and global corporations, the Kochs and their cadre now aggressively blame middle class workers for the Wall Street-triggered recession and, in the process, are pushing to destroy the last vestiges of trade unionism and all that it implies, as Paul Krugman notes:

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.

More recommended reading: Gene Robinson and Ezra Klein in the Washpost.

Polling footnote: Rasmussen’s at it again, loading up its polling to support the Republican position on the debate over collective bargaining by public employees. Best evidence from impartial and also from Democratic connected pollsters finds that about six in 10 voters in Wisconsin and throughout the country reject the drive to do away with this fundamental labor right.

36th CD: The Jane, Janice, Debra and Marcy Show

Friday, February 11th, 2011

The most interesting thing about the special election race for L.A.’s just-deserted 36th Congressional District seat is that it will be the first high-profile campaign in California to be played out under the new “jungle primary” rules.

Three under-the-radar legislative specials covered by the new, top-two primary system are coming up in the next few weeks, but  none will attract even a hint of the widespread state and national interest already focusing on the contest to replace the departing Representative Jane Harman, a hardliner on Israel and national security issues, and the only Blue Dog in L.A.

The top contenders eying a run to replace her array from center to left to far left, all but ensuring one of those “battle for the soul of the Democratic party” deals, as they position themselves to win one of the two spots in the playoffs, in what is likely to be an all-Democrat run-off.

The coastal district became one of the most gerrymandered in the state in the 2000 reapportionment, when the big chunk of Republican voters in the Palos Verdes peninsula got cut out. Democrats now hold a 45.3 to 27.6% edge in registration, and Obama carried it by 30 points in 2008.

Intriguingly, the top-two primary rules make it possible that a Republican could make it into the run-off; they’d get totally clobbered, of course, but the fact that district lines will soon be redrawn by the new and unpredictable citizens reapportionment commission is yet another wild card factor that offers ambitious GOP wannabes a chance to raise their profiles this time out.

“This will be one of those races where (the candidates) are out every night, and every community dog beach association will have a forum,” said one veteran operative not working in the campaign.

Here’s the Calbuzz early line on the players:

Janice Hahn – The L.A. City Council member was Harman’s guest at last month’s State of the Union address; the fact that she announced her candidacy and had endorsements lined up about 12 seconds after Harman publicly made it known she was leaving, leads to the surmise that she’s the favorite of the imperious departing incumbent. But Hahn isn’t much of a fundraiser, as she proved in her losing primary campaign for lieutenant governor against Gavin “Lt. Starbuck” Newsom. She has all the charisma of a rutabaga, but she’ll be the closest thing to a moderate in the race; more importantly, she’s already put together a veteran campaign team including L.A. consultant John Shallman, pollster John Fairbank and redoubtable media strategist Joe Trippi. The incendiary Garry South, an old friend of Hahn’s who ran her campaign for Lite Gov, is whispering backstage  as an unpaid adviser.

Debra Bowen – The incumbent Secretary of State was a popular Assembly and state Senate representative of much of the district from the early 1990s until she ran and won her current job in 2006. Termed out in 2014 (she has added incentive to go for Congress because her husband works in Washington) she has some key organizational assets: state Democratic chairman John Burton signaled his approval by putting out a statement noting she was “the only candidate” who had notified the party she was running; the netroots/Calitics crowd just loves her (she quickly put up an “Act Blue”  fundraising page) and her strategist is Parke Skelton, a solid pro. Question that she’ll have to answer: Isn’t there something optically askew about a sitting Secretary of State overseeing a special election in which she’s a candidate? Just askin’.

Marcy Winograd – An L.A. teacher and anti-war activist, Winograd challenged Harman in the last two Democratic primaries, winning 41 percent of the vote last year. Her anti-war on terror positions and pro-Palestinian tilt drives many crazy (see: Waxman, Henry) but there’s no denying she’s got a base in the district that makes her a factor in the “top two” system. Winograd recently moved to Santa Monica, about a mile outside the district, which doesn’t really matter much, and so far has played coy about her intentions; she says she wants to ask Bowen some “tough questions” before making up her mind (which we assume will be along the line of, “Do you favor melting down all U.S. military weapons and turning them into windmills?”) but we’ll be surprised if she doesn’t run.

Republicans – For reasons cited above, GOP pols have reason to run for more than just the exercise, and a batch of them are already panting at the prospect. Any Republican would have to be one helluva’ attractive candidate to matter, though, and Mattie Fein, a communications consultant whom Harman smushed last November; Mike Webb, running from that historically great political stepping stone of Redondo Beach city attorney; and (maybe) former Stanford footballer Damon Dunn, last seen wearing a construction helmet at the Republican state convention, for reasons that remain unclear, don’t make the cut.

A final word: Harman has never been one of our favorite people, not least because of her overbearing air of wealthy entitlement, and we can’t help but suspect her think tank deal has been in the works for some time, given that her predecessor announced he was leaving last May. So we agree with Huffpost blogger Richard Grenell that G.I. Jane ought to pay the cost of the damn special election to succeed her. What better way to spend some of Sidney’s zillions?

Checklist for Lt. Newsom; GOP Seeks Presidentials

Monday, January 31st, 2011

When Gavin Newsom made like Achilles and took to brooding in his tent, back in the dark days of 2009 after quitting the race for governor and before re-emerging as a candidate for lite gov, the ex-mayor of San Francisco imperiously mocked the state job he now holds:

“What does the lieutenant governor do?” he said at the time. “For the life of me, I don’t know.”

Today, as Calbuzz formally demotes Newsom from the rank of Prince Gavin to the status of Lieutenant Starbuck, our intrepid cartoonist Tom Meyer offers his own, extremely helpful, suggestion to get the good lieutenant started on a new job description.

“What should Newsom do with his time?” politics guru Jack Pitney recently remarked to the indefatigable Jack Chang. “Accept speaking invitations, do lots of talks, spend time with the family, help raise his kids. It’s essentially a non-job.”

It’s true, of course, that the lite gov’s most solemn constitutional duty is to get up every morning, make sure Governor Brown is still breathing and then go back to bed. And sure, there are plenty of boring and conventional ways for newly-elected Newsom to spend his days.

But in our unstinting efforts to find positive solutions to intractable problems – we’re from the press, we’re here to help! – we’ve come up with a short list of other assignments for Lt. Starbuck to not only make himself useful but also keep his handsome mug squarely on the political radar in Sacramento.

Become California’s Chief Deputy Recycling Officer. Newsom will never be able to match the legendary tree hugger cred of Brown, who was totally green long before Kermit the Frog. But between banning plastic water bottles and starting an organic garden at City Hall, the erstwhile prince built his own, not inconsiderable, rep as a verdant pol. So what better way to save the Earth, while simultaneously meeting and greeting the folks who matter in Sacramento, than by making daily rounds of the Capitol, collecting bottles, cans and unread newspapers (as most, sadly, are).

Stop the squirrels from panhandling in Capitol Park. As S.F. Mayor,  Newsom spent considerable time and political capital trying to tamp down the city’s well-earned image as a happy haven for aggressive, snarling street people. Now he has a splendid chance to apply those skills by forging a pragmatic but humane approach to handling the begging squirrels of Capitol Park (especially the nasty gray ones)– maybe with a new program for tourists to kick into a Rodent Food Bank instead of offering the annoying critters nuts and seeds on an individual basis.

Wash and service Kamala’s car. Sure, Attorney General Kamala Harris is Starbuck’s future rival for the Democratic nomination for governor, but unlike him, she has, you know,  an actual job. While saving the Department of Justice a few bucks by volunteering to change the oil and wax down Herself’s state-financed ride, Gavin might even generate a few extra bucks for the general fund by connecting with other customers in the Capitol’s basement garage.

Launch a new state escort service. A recent study found that Sacramento is one of the few towns west of the Mississippi with a healthy surplus of single women over men. Given that Gavin’s greatest political asset is his movie star mien – hey, is that Matthew McConaughey?-  why not put his good looks to work as the star attraction of California’s new Department of Arm Candy and Society Walkers, safely squiring unattached females to fundraisers and other big events in Sacramento’s non-stop social whirl?

Serve as the Legislature’s designated driver. Every year, it seems, at least one prominent state lawmaker gets stopped on a DUI, endangering his political career when word of his scandalous behavior reaches the district back home. What better insider gig for a guy with lots of time on his hands than hanging around the bar at Lucca and cheerfully grabbing the keys to ensure some soused solon gets safely tucked in bed?

Rearrange Jerry’s books. Our pal Greg Lucas recently provided a terrific guided tour through the eclectic and expansive personal library of Governor Gandalf, noting that his bookcase is “brimming — without organization — with topics like religion, urban planning, history, psychology and mysticism.”

Surely Gavin could earn himself some Brownie points – and begin working off the early demerits he racked up by undercutting Jerry’s bid to whack the U.C. budget – by spending a few hours getting the gubernatorial athenaeum in order, hopefully employing the Dewey decimal system, which the old-school Silver Fox would doubtlessly prefer.

On the day he was inaugurated this month, Newsom pathetically pleaded with reporters, who showed up to watch his swearing in but quickly decamped to fry some bigger fish: “This is the last time you’re going to want to talk to me,” he said. “Don’t forget me.”

No worries, lieutenant, we wouldn’t think of it.

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Let the games begin: We hear the California Republican Party, struggling to recover its footing after getting pasted in November, is assiduously putting out feelers to potential 2012 presidential contenders in hopes of attracting some attention to its March 18-20 convention in Sacramento.

Party activists, of course, will be there to elect leaders, establish rules for top-two primaries and other fascinating chores, but whether normal people even notice the event may hinge on whether any presidentials come courting.

Included on the GOP’s wish list: Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. Of course, they have to extend a warm invitation to Tundra Queen Sarah Palin, too, but we hear that some in the party dearly hope she won’t want to show, since she would consume all the oxygen and turn the convention into a Tea Party Extravaganza, when serious party rebuilding is what’s called for.

Calbuzz is not in the party building business but we sure would like to see the California GOP become relevant again in statewide elections: it’d be better for political reporters, not to mention democracy, if there was a little competition of ideas in California. That’s why we posted our Memo to the GOP (key item: figure out a way to support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants without sacrificing your Republican principles).

Meanwhile, back in the United States of Washington, D.C., the 2012 sweepstakes is already well underway. If you’re already behind — for shame! — here’s a preliminary reading list:

– Chris “The Fix” Cillizza offers an early line on the electoral college, concluding that Obama’s not nearly in the sad shape some would-be rivals would have you think.

– The Chron produced a swell set of charts for their pre-SOTU coverage comparing Obama’s standing on some economic and political measurables with those of recent presidents.

– The Times details how national political blogs are cranking up to go completely nuts with coverage.

Politico confirms the accuracy of the Times story.

– Politico also smokes out our own Rob Stutzman, a key 2008 Mitt Romney operative, to buttress their situationer showing that Mighty Mitt is encountering a level of skepticism among political professionals that’s hardly befitting an alleged front-runner:

“I’m keeping my powder dry for now,” said Stutzman, Romney’s top California adviser in 2008. “I think new congressional maps and Senate races may provide the most exciting campaign opportunities in ’12.”

At least since that whole Meg Whitman thing, anyway.

Why football is America’s Game: The Jets blew their chance at the Super Bowl with a bunch of dog-ass play calls in a crucial series at the Steelers’ goal line last week, which means the big game’s entertainment value will be considerably lessened without the performance art stylings of madman head coach Rex Ryan.

Final Thoughts on IGS 2010 Gov Race Conference

Monday, January 24th, 2011

In the end, the weekend conference on California’s just-concluded campaign for governor looked a lot like the race itself: Meg Whitman refused to talk to an audience not of her choosing, got trashed for it and ended up the biggest loser for her selfish and self-absorbed behavior.

The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies confab, held every four years, drew its largest crowd ever, an eclectic collection of media and political hacks, earnest students and academic chrome domes, professional pollsters and political wannabes, all drawn by the opportunity to hear, first-hand from the operatives who ran the campaigns, the inside story of how the deal went down.

Beyond its sheer entertainment value for an audience of obsessed political junkies, the conference in the past also served the more serious purpose of establishing a permanent record of the process by which Californians chose their chief executive, an important resource for scholars, authors and journalists. But the 2011 version was unfortunately flawed by two big shortcomings:

First, not a single member of the mighty Legions of eMeg had the courage, concern for history, not to mention common courtesy, to show his or her face; despite heroic efforts to represent the Republican perspective by top-rank GOP pols who didn’t work on the campaign (about whom more later) this left a huge hole in the record, given that Herself and Her Money, in many ways, became the story of the campaign.

Second, there was way too much spin and way too little candor by too many of those who did participate – an unfortunate departure from past years, which will leave a distorted and incomplete record of what was one of the most important campaigns in recent decades: “It just wasn’t the real story of the campaign,” one prominent political scientist complained at a post-conference reception. (Suggested reading for future scholars: this and this.)

That said, there still was value in the event, even if it was often to be found in the bar of the Hotel Shattuck Plaza and around the tables of nearby Berkeley restaurants, where war stories and unvarnished opinions were more frequently to be found. Some observations:

Most Valuable Player – The MVP of the conference was Jim Bognet, manager of Steve Poizner’s losing GOP primary effort. Funny, smart and honest, Bognet offered a sense of what it was like day-after-day to go up against a rival funded by $180 million (Meg’s spending “created its own center of gravity”) and displayed how personal the battle got between the Republicans (“never was so much spent on so many for so little”). He also provided – in the form of advice to students in the room thinking about going into politics — the best single riff of the weekend, defining the ethical rot at the center of Team Whitman that led to the most expensive disaster in the history of American politics:

When you’re getting paid a lot of money – and there were many consultants in this race that got paid a lot of money – it gives you an incentive not to speak truth to power. It gives you an incentive not to tell them what they don’t want to hear as candidates. You are more valuable as a campaign staffer and as a human being if you’re willing to say to the person who is paying your paycheck, “You are wrong. You need to talk to the press. You need to go out and answer these questions. You need to answer for why you switched your position.” It is a conflict of interest because the same person that is paying you, you have to give hard advice and talk about things, personal things that are not comfortable to talk about. So I would say, you have to fight against that continuously in order to add value to your candidate.

Least Valuable Player – The LVP of the conference was Peter Ragone, representing Gavin Newsom’s short and stunted primary bid for governor. Ragone is a nice guy and a competent operative, but his endless, obviously phony spin on behalf of the new Lite Governor had the audience groaning and looking for barf bags.

Newsom, it seems, is a politician of uncommon moral courage, motivated by only two idealistic factors – his unstinting and unselfish determination to do what is right and true and good for all the rest of us (after trashing the office of lieutenant governor, he changed his mind and ran because “he decided this was where he could the most good”) and the high moral courage that drives him to put his family above all else (no mention of him boinking the wife of his chief of staff in the mayor’s office). Self-interest never figures into it, Ragone would have us believe. Enough to make a hog puke. No matter what new UC Regent Newsom wanted, IGS should have invited Garry South and Nick Clemons, his actual gubernatorial campaign directors.

The missing characters –  The transcript of the proceedings will be turned into a book which purportedly will serve as the final word on the governor’s race. Puh-leeze. Consider this: the three most important behind-the-scenes players in the race – Brown’s wife Anne Gust, Whitman major domo Henry Gomez and top strategist Mike Murphy – didn’t figure in any of the discussions and, unless we missed it during a trip to the head or the cookie table, their names were never even mentioned. That’s like doing Hamlet without Hamlet.

Kudos to the stand-ins. While eMeg’s minions cowered in fear far away from Berkeley, former state chairmen Duf Sundheim and Bob Naylor, along with veteran strategist Jim Brulte, did a terrific job of describing the GOP perspective, their limited contacts with the candidate and her turf-conscious consultants, and how the establishment watched in horror as Whitman melted down.

“As Republicans, we were really concerned as the primary went on because since they were so close on the issues, it was really going to come down to a very nasty, personal fight,” Sundheim said. Said Naylor: “When the dust settled in the primary, the Whitman campaign was over.” And Brulte, who with his commentary reaffirmed his position as the sharpest Republican mind in the state, observed that except for Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger – celebrities who transcended politics – California voters have always wanted  an experienced hand as governor. By spending so much money on television without a break, Whitman undercut her own ability to be the next best thing, he argued. “By Labor Day, Jerry Brown, who was governor when I was in high school, was the fresh new face.”

Message trumps money – Since we’re kvetching about others for a lack of self-criticism, Calbuzz should acknowledge that our own coverage may have suffered from putting too much focus on the extraordinary spectacle of Meg’s crazed spending, which at times led us to the misassumption that she could make up for her lack of a clear and consistent winning message by throwing money at the problem.

“I never understood it,” said Democratic consultant Gale Kaufman. “Every time you turned on the TV, there were four or five tracks of (Whitman) ads that were completely different. They were switching ads all the time. You had no idea what their strategy was and never had anyone explain it to me.”  The Whitman campaign never had a compelling message, agreed consultant Rick Claussen: “Tactics is just a way to talk to voters.” You can spend all you want reaching out to voters, but if you don’t have something worth listening to, it’s a huge waste of money.

Brown was both lucky and good – In the final session of the conference, Brulte put his partisan perspective aside and offered his bottom line: Brown “ran a picture perfect campaign,” he said, a strategy built on keeping its focus on fundraising, using the office of Attorney General to keep him in the news and steering their own course no matter how much the winds emanating from Camp Whitman tried to blow them off course.

In Jim Moore, Brown had the best pollster in the race, the best ad man in Joe Trippi and the most disciplined manager in Glazer; their game plan to hold their fire until Labor Day, while many top Democrats and the political peanut gallery were hollering for them to answer eMeg’s summer assault, made all the difference. But Brown’s strategists also admitted that they benefited from missteps by eMeg. Said Glazer:

The one worry that I had when we went through that (2009) fall period into the new year was that Meg Whitman was going to use her resources to use Jerry Brown as the foil to be a stronger Republican . . . I thought that she would — even before the new year struck — that she would start to use Jerry Brown and start to raise our negatives by running against us as the presumptive Republican nominee. And I expected that all the way through until the primary day. I was very surprised that that actually never happened.

Once the primary was over, Trippi’s greatest fear was that Whitman would “go dark” over the summer, giving voters a respite from her 24/7 invasion of their living rooms and allowing her to re-emerge as a fresh face in the fall. Instead she essentially turned herself into the incumbent in a year when voters wanted change.

As Bognet had put it earlier: “She built herself a $180 million brand. Unfortunately, by the time the general came around her brand was, ‘She’s the woman with the money who won’t get off my TV.’”

Panelists also agreed that Whitman made a huge error by trying to portray Brown as a traditional tax and spend liberal, which simply misstates his record. As Republican Naylor, who served in the Assembly during Brown’s first turn as governor, put it: “Tax and spend doesn’t stick with Jerry Brown.”

Tone matters – Trippi correctly observed that the relentlessly snarky tone of Whitman’s relentless attack ads didn’t resonate with voters – “failure has followed him everywhere” he intoned — because they have a much more complex and long-running, if not always fond, relationship with him. Better for the Whitman people, Trippi said, to have been respectful to Brown by crafting a  more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger “gold watch” message, saying that he had performed valuable service to the state but adding that it was simply time for him to go, and to elect a “governor for the 21st century.”

Trying to avoid the press was a huge blunder — Speaker after speaker pointed to Whitman’s strategy of stiffing the media as a costly error for several reasons: it sent a message to voters that she thought she was too good to go through the usual hoops candidates for high office have always faced; it established a narrative that Whitman was secretive, and must have something to hide; it was a clear affront to the working press of the state, and their frustration showed up in the stories. As Poizner’s Jarrod Agen put it: “It never works to avoid the press.”

Bill Lockyer is the Diogenes of state politics — California’s treasurer was the keynote speaker of the conference and he turned in a boffo performance that provided a full-on and utterly frank look at the state of the state’s finances. Ask Lockyer what time it is and he’s liable to tell you how to make a watch, so some of his discourse on the niceties of the municipal bond market were a bit windy, but he’s smart, funny and seen it all. We’ll be running the text of his speech later this week.

Worst advice – The model for a California GOP comeback is Chris Christie in New Jersey, said Republican Tony Quinn. Sustained attacks on public employee unions and bloated government are the key to victory, he said. When Calbuzz rose to note that Whitman had done exactly that, he replied that she hadn’t done it very well.

Immigration sunk Whitman – Even before Meg’s Nicky Diaz housekeeper scandal, the immigration issue was a huge problem for Whitman. As Glazer explained, she had many liabilities on the issue even without Nicky – from shifting positions on a path to citizenship to her opposition to the Dream Act. Poizner’s hardline position in the primary forced her to move far right, which made her efforts to get back to the center in the general look pathetically calculated. When the Nicky story erupted, it merely personalized the hypocrisy and brazen opportunism of her political stances.

As Poizner’s Agen explained:

If we’d gotten into the general, it would have been a policy debate between Steve and Governor Brown on the policy issue of immigration. Jerry Brown would have had one stance on immigration, Steve would have had the other. But it would have been a policy discussion on immigration . . . What ended up happening, though, was immigration turned into a character issue and that is what ultimately hurts the Republican Party hugely is if immigration is a character issue. If it stays a policy issue, people are going to disagree with it and we felt that if you get to the general election, we’ll have it out, we’ll have that debate with Jerry on immigration, we’ll see how people, where people stand.

Best line – The strategists were asked at one point to name one thing they would have done that they didn’t do. “Telephone operational training,” said Glazer, a big laugh reference to Brown’s failure to hang up the phone when leaving a message with a law enforcement union, which led to the flap over someone in Brown headquarters (hello, Anne) referring to eMeg as a political “whore.”

Best fights – Field Pollster Mark Dicamillo ripped off the face of robopollster Jay Leve of SurveyUSA (in the nicest possible way), who responded with a furious defense of his methodology, a screed that included some whacks at Calbuzz. The Cage Match of the pollsters was only matched for excitement when Democratic operative Bob Mulholland and Tony Quinn got into a finger-pointing duel about the rules and political significance of the new “top two” primary system. Talk about don’t-invite-ems.

The new Whig party — A number of speakers at the conference strongly argued that the California Republican party is essentially dead. Brulte for one said there was no way Whitman could have won the race because of the structural and demographic political landscape of the state, while Sundheim said “Republicans, as a brand, are dead.” Speaker after speaker noted how the Republican hostility to Latinos and other minorities, coupled with tired messaging that has nothing for younger voters, has made them an isolated and marginal party of old white people. Most seemed to have read and adopted the Calbuzz Memo to CA GOP: Time to Do Something Different.

Speaking of Whigs — Sacramento consultant Ray McNally, proving that there’s not much new in American politics, read from an 1840 confidential memo written by Abraham Lincoln that laid out a complete organizing strategy for the “overthrow of the corrupt powers that now control our beloved country,” which included everything from polling and GOTV to voter contact and fundraising. Example: “3) It will also be their duty to report to you, at least once a month, the progress they are making, and on election days see that every Whig is brought to the polls.” You can read it here.

The two minds of the voters – Political scientist Kim Nalder from Sac State honed in on the most fundamental factor driving state politics today: the disconnect that voters feel between demanding high levels of service and their determination not to pay taxes. Lockyer underscored a Calbuzz report that voters think 48% of the money the state spends is wasted –  a high hurdle for Brown to overcome if he is to sell his cuts-and-taxes budget plan to fix the state’s $28 billion budget shortfall.

Deep thoughts: Thad Kousser of UC San Diego made some points that cut against the notion that California is forever blue (an argument that effectively lets the Armies of eMeg off the hook). A panel of political scientists agreed that “campaign effects” are marginal – but that marginal effects matter big time in close races, so the Whitman-Brown race could have been close – “Nothing was inevitable in this campaign.” And a note to future mega-spending candidates: “Campaigns can’t tell voters what to think, but they can tell them what to think about.”

Nice work — There were too many journalists from the LA Times on the program (although we were wrong to say two of the three didn’t cover the governor’s race: only one did not) and not enough from other major papers or news agencies. But the four who participated — Mark Barabak, Cathy Decker and Anthony York of the Times, and Timm Herdt of the Ventura County Star — did a fine job of moving the conversation along.