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Archive for the ‘Gray Davis’ Category



Weekend Flea Market: Lie Down with Dogs, Come Up with Items

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

blankface1Whither Tony V?: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s abrupt cancellation of his appearance at the Democratic state convention, coupled with the consistent snarliness of his political handlers, has fueled speculation that Tony V. may not run for governor. But L.A. political insiders scoff at such gossip: “It looks like it’s going to be a Democratic year. If he doesn’t go now, in eight years he’ll be 66, and facing a whole new generation of young ‘uns,” said one savvy southland seer. “This is his shot.”

Still, local politicos are closely eyeballing the increasingly bitter brawl for city attorney between lawyer Carmen Trutanich and city councilman Jack Weiss as a measure of Villaraigosa’s strength. If Weiss, the mayor’s dog in this fight, loses on May 19, it will be one more bit of evidence, along with Tony’s unimpressive re-election numbers, that Antonio Alcalde’s standing with his political base ain’t all that.

Whitman Sampler: On the Republican side, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner stepped up his attacks on GOP front-runner Meg Whitman this week, issuing no less than three statements ripping eMeg variously for ducking debates, stiffing the press and sugarcoating her tenure at eBay.

Weirdest move by the Poizneristas was a press release reprinting in full an article written for Capitol Weekly by Democratic consultant Garry South, Gavin Newsom’s strategist. The piece was South’s take on the problems faced by rich business executives who jump into politics, an issue we posted about on Monday. In recounting how he tackled the wealthy businessman Al Checchi while handling Gray Davis for governor, South saw similarities with Whitman:

“Whitman shares yet another commonality with Checchi – a spotty voting record,” he wrote. “Whitman didn’t bother to vote in four statewide elections since just 2003 – including the ‘03 recall election that put Gov. Schwarzenegger in office. À la Checchi, she hasn’t been able to verify whether she voted in the 1994 gubernatorial election, when the controversial anti-immigrant Prop. 187 was on the ballot. She has apologized for these lapses, saying she was busy running a company and had two kids. (Average voters with kids use that as an excuse for skipping the polling place?)”

Whitman has remained sanguine in the face of near-constant sniping from various corners, apparently believing that the Republican primary is more than a year away… Oh, it is?

Be that as it may, by remaining silent in the face of Poizner’s pounding, eMeg runs the risk that the narratives her rival is setting down – she’s afraid to debate, she’s afraid of the press, she’s doesn’t understand state issues – take hold, at least among the cognescenti and the media. If that happens, she may find down the road that her orchestrated efforts to “introduce” herself to voters will be hampered by a need for rehab, to undo the definition frame Poizner plunked on her early (now, about that Calbuzz interview request, Meg…)

Lust in his heart: Tom Campbell, the third Republican in the race, keeps plugging away in his terminally earnest energizer bunny manner, trying to make the race about…issues, fercryinoutloud.

Campbell this week delivered a big guest lecture on economics at UCLA, in which he raised the specter of unintended consequences arising from Obama’s John Maynard Keynes imitation:

“The growth in federal borrowing over the last six months has been greater than at any comparable time in American history, by a large amount,” Campbell said. “When the economy recovers, inflation is inevitable. A modest estimate, given the amount of money the federal government has printed, is in excess of 12% inflation.

“That has a direct cost to California because of the huge amounts our state borrows,” he added. “No one will buy a California bond at less than the expected rate of inflation. So, as systemic double-digit inflation, dead since Jimmy Carter, returns to our national economy, the effect will be particularly devastating on California’s ability to balance its budget.”

Oy.

Puff, puff, bail, bail: Greg Lucas, Calbuzz Capitol Correspondent, blogs his take on the dust-up over legalizing marijuana, over at California’s Capitol. His bottom line — not bloody likely anytime soon:

“Expansion of sin taxes hasn’t fared well in the Capitol… Although possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is an infraction, lawmakers are reluctant to back legislation that could make them appear soft-on-crime, fearing campaign attack pieces. That would make legalization of marijuana that much more difficult.”

The long goodbye: Latest twist in the sad saga of newspapers twisting slowly in the wind was a Senate subcommittee hearing on “The Future of Journalism” this week; chairman John Kerry and other members of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body defended ink-stained wretches against the likes of print-killers Arianna Huffington and Marisa Mayer of Google.

Washington Post class clown Dana Milbank had the most succinct report here while the strongest testimony was delivered by David Simon, former cop shop reporter for the Baltimore Sun who took on the decline of newspapers in season five of his superb HBO series, “The Wire.”

Freudian parts dept: One of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s many signature moments in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” comes when he wields a giant tear gas launcher against a bunch of cops while escaping from Cyberdyne Systems: “It’s definitely you,” adolescent hero John Connor tells Cyborg Arnold.

Now, one day after the governor promised fire-weary Santa Barbara residents he would do whatever it takes to conquer the raging Jesusita blaze, local smoke eaters got the firefighters’ equivalent of Arnold’s Big Gun: a DC-10 air tanker, which made repeated sorties over the fire Friday, dumping 12,000 gallons of retardant in a single drop.

“Chill out, dickwad.”

Why Rich Guys Don’t Win Top Offices in California

Monday, May 4th, 2009

poiznerAs the 2010 field for governor takes shape, the top Republican contenders are a pair of successful former Silicon Valley businesspeople, each armed for the campaign with a self-made fortune.

megcropBoth Meg Whitman, who scored big at eBay, and Steve Poizner, who made his pile as a high-tech innovator, begin the race with the wherewithal to spend whatever it takes to win. If past is prologue, however, Whitman and Poizner will both end up political losers.

Pity the poor billionaire seeking high office in California : Not once in modern political history has a self-financed candidate captured a top-of-ticket party nomination and gone on to be elected governor or U.S. senator in the state.

This historic trend again marks California as a great exception, in contrast to states like New Jersey and Texas , where multimillionaires routinely prevail.
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Industrialist Norton Simon set the bar low for wealthy candidates in California when he tried and failed to oust Senator George Murphy in the 1970 GOP primary. Liberal shipping magnate William Matson Roth kept the losing streak intact when he lost the 1974 Democratic gubernatorial primary to a guy named Jerry Brown.

Since then, three wealthy businessmen who would be governor – Al Checchi (1998) Bill Simon (2002) and Steve Westly (2006) spent big but finished out of the money. So did Michael Huffington, who spent $100 million in losing to Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 1994, and Darrell Issa, who forked out millions of his car alarm fortune to stumble in the 1998 GOP Senate primary.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only self-funded candidate who’s made it to a top slot. However, he short-circuited the odds by avoiding a primary, where the Republican right wing would have battered him, to capture the governorship in the anomalous 2003 recall (funded largely by Issa) of Gray Davis.

“The problem is that there’s an innate suspicion about people running without a history in politics,” said Bill Carrick, a California-based political strategist who crafted Feinstein’s 1994 campaign defense against Huffington’s millions.

It is instructive that Feinstein prevailed with a bit of political ju-jitsu, transforming Huffington’s limitless resources from an asset into a liability, with TV attack ads that labeled him “a Texas oilman Californians just can’t trust.”

“There’s a group of voters who find the outsider, business candidate attractive,” Carrick said. “They’re white men over 50, with anti-establishment political views, who don’t like the status quo. But it never gets beyond that universe.”

Garry South, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s chief strategist — who helped Davis defeat former Northwest Airlines CEO Checchi in the 1998 primary, and Republican financier Simon in the 2002 general election — cited several reasons for the failure of Golden State silver spoon candidates.

“They have too much money,” South said, noting that without normal budget constraints, rich candidates often fail to develop a coherent message or target it to voters. Checchi’s consultants, for example, produced a staggering 102 TV spots in 1998, airing 42 of them. Said South: “They think they can say everything about themselves to everybody.”

Unlike professional politicians, wealthy rookies lack a group of seasoned advisers, “so they go out and hire everybody in the Western Hemisphere and wind up with a big bloated campaign team with no real chain of command,” South said, adding that successful executives often underestimate the difficulty of running for office.

“They think because they’re successful in business, they’re smarter, better and more clever than anybody in politics,” he said. “They honestly don’t get that the things that they’re most proud of in their business life don’t compute in the political world.”

But Republican consultant Rob Stutzman, who works for Whitman, the richest of the current candidate crop, argued that as political reforms have squeezed contribution limits, individual wealth is almost a prerequisite for running in California .

“You have to have self-funding in order to run credibly statewide,” he said. “You can’t raise enough money at a fast enough clip to compete.”

Whitman strategists emphasize that she (like her rival, Insurance Commissioner Poizner) is aggressively raising money to supplement self-donations.

“Meg believes there have to be investors in the message and the mission,” said spokesman Mitch Zak, predicting that she will raise $5 million in outside contributions to go with $4 million she’s kicked in herself, by summer.

Although a third wealthy candidate – Guess Jeans co-founder Georges Marciano – plans to run as an independent, polltaker Mervin Field foresees that the economic meltdown will create a daunting political climate for rich candidates of every stripe.

“The state is in one hell of a mess,” Field said. “I believe voters will be looking for someone with a different resume.”

This article is also scheduled for publication in the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday, May 4.

Ask Dr. Hackenflack: Secrets to Mysteries of California Gov’s Race

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

Dr. P.J. Hackenflack, Calbuzz staff political psychiatrist, has received a load of letters about the candidates in the 2010 California governor’s race. At the urging of the Calbuzz Senior Executive Management Team, he agreed to share a few with our readers.

Dear Dr. Hackenflack,
How can Jerry Brown be governor? Isn’t there some law against a guy holding the top office twice in the same life?
— Wondering in Willits
Yes, but Jerry enjoys immunity, having slipped through a breach in the space-time continuum, which taught him there is no past or future, only now.

Sir,
I saw a TV ad with Gavin Newsom telling people they should accept gay marriage regardless of how they felt about it. Does that mean I have to vote for him even if I like somebody else?
— Bruce from Burlingame
Yes you do, according to Newsom adviser Garry South. Whether you like it or not.

Hi Doc,
I know Meg Whitman was CEO of eBay but I don’t get how that prepares her to cut deals with legislators, manage hot button social issues or lead an economic behemoth like California.
— Skeptical in Stanislaus
Me neither.

Dear Dr. H,
I hear that Antonio Villaraigosa is planning to run, even though he just told voters in L.A. he really, really wanted to be re-elected mayor. Why is he doing this?
— Juanita, San Joaquin
He heard that Telemundo has a new reporter on the political beat.

My Dear Doctor Hackenflack,
How can Jerry Brown be governor – isn’t he older than the Oakland Hills?
— Dianne in Presidio Terrace
Definitely not. It’s true that Jerry is older than the ball point pen, but when the Oakland-Bay Bridge opened, he was already two.

Wussup Doc,
Steve Poizner might be, like, totally awesome, but he’s, like, the insurance commissioner? Isn’t being governor, like, sort of a big next step?
– -Tiffany in Tujunga
Yes, but Gray Davis provides a great example of how to ride a cheesy statewide office into a failed governorship.

To: Dr. P.J. Hackenflack
From: Bert in San Jose
It is my understanding that Tom Campbell has not raised much money and is campaigning primarily by writing a blog. Does being a blogger qualify him to be governor of our state?
Who cares, as long as he links to calbuzz?

Dear Doctor,
When Arnold became governor he called Democrats “economic girlie men,” but he turned out to be kind of a wimp himself. What he will do when he leaves office?
— Maria, Los Angeles
Work tirelessly to promote the metrosexual agenda.

DH,
How can Jerry Brown be governor – isn’t he like gum on your shoe?
— Anne from Oakland
Yes.

Send your questions for Dr. Hackenflack to calbuzzer@gmail.com. If Dr. H selects your question, you’ll win a free, limited edition “I’m a Calbuzzer” button, suitable for wearing.

Seven Key Questions the Candidates for Governor Should Answer

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

It’s way early in spring training season in the California governor’s campaign: 442 days until next year’s June 8 primaries, to be exact. But it’s never too soon to start assessing the political talent that’s on the field.

With California facing 10.5 percent unemployment, a growing mountain of debt amid a global credit crunch and a political system in Sacramento that is way beyond dysfunctional, the people of the state simply cannot stand for candidates who try to con them with phony umbrage, personal attacks, focus-tested, superficial stances and trumped-up polarizing issues.

A couple of things we know from our own experience: A moderate –- which you have to be to win statewide –- will be bedeviled by the left-wing (for a Democrat) or the right-wing (for a Republican) of his or her party. And California can’t afford another politician who just wants to BE governor; it needs someone who wants to actually govern.

But the powers of California’s chief executive have been dramatically curtailed and constricted over the past four decades, to wit:
— A series of sweeping and often contradictory ballot measures have stunted and distorted the governor’s fiscal policy-making authority.
— The seas of red ink and billions in annual interest payments in which state government is drowning have sapped the governor’s strength in launching or sustaining new initiatives.
— Term limits have created a constant game of political musical chairs that puts top priority on partisan positioning in the Capitol. Assembly speakers are a dime a dozen and legislators have little reason to fear the governor, regardless of who he or she may be.

Given these limits as table stakes, any candidate who promises and presumes to be effective in the job not only needs the economic smarts to understand California’s financial morass, but also should possess a sure and subtle political talent for managing the wackiness and whims of 120 legislators — not to mention the stones to confront and face down entrenched unions and other special interests long used to getting their own way.

It’s a tall order for any politician, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came to Sacramento equipped with little more than easy bromides and breezy pronouncements, has learned the hard way that the day-to-day practice of politics is more art than science, and not as simple as it looks.

Whether or not anyone in the 2010 field can actually govern California in an effective and serious way, is of course, an unknown. What is known is that with the state clearly in decline at a time when the world economy is in turmoil, the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. Between now and November 2010, calbuzz will focus closely on the gubernatorial campaign and its candidates.

Today, however, we start with a set of meta political and policy questions, and some follow-ups, that we think are important.

1. Do you have a serious plan to address the structural deficit in California’s budget?

What combination of tax increases, spending cuts and borrowing do you think is required? Which taxes, which programs? What is the proper level of debt for the state to carry? If California’s debt level is too high, what are you going to do to reduce it? Does your plan have a prayer of winning support from enough of the opposition party to actually be implemented? What ideas do you have, beyond tired platitudes and knee jerk ideological sheep dip, for reclaiming control of the budget?

2. Do you have a serious plan to help create jobs in California?

How would you use the executive levers of state government to encourage and align with private business to generate economic development for green industries and building, alternative fuel sources and uses, digital, bio and nano technologies? What role should the University of California play in economic development? How important is state support of K-12 education, and what level of funding for public schools will you absolutely commit to? Should students who receive state aid to attend UCs and CSUs have a public service requirement? What is the role of the non-profit community in helping to grow the economy, and what relationship should the state have these groups?

3. What life experience do you have that proves your ability to work with a Legislature representing the breadth and depth of California?

What have you learned from watching Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger try and fail to force lawmakers to fall in line behind an agenda? What have you done that has prepared you for a job requiring an outsize ability to cajole, bully, stroke and persuade 120 raging egos who are accountable to small geopolitical units? Explain how your political skills have developed and candidly measure them against the non-stop cacophonous, complex and conflicting demands of being governor?

4. What is your plan for changing the dysfunctional structure of state government and what reforms will you fight for?

Should the state dump the two-thirds vote required to pass a budget? How about the two-thirds needed to approve tax measures? Should the standard be a 55 percent vote, or a simple majority? If you think we should keep the two-thirds standard, what is your political strategy for overcoming gridlock and getting to two-thirds? Do you think term limits have worked for California? If not how would you get rid of them? Do you support or oppose the open primary measure that will be on the June 2010 ballot?

5. Would amending Proposition 13 be on or off the table in your administration?

Do you think Prop. 13 should be amended to allow a split roll assessment system that taxes commercial property at higher rates than residential? What about the problem of neighbors with similar houses who pay wildly different tax bills because of when they bought their homes? Do you think this inequity should be addressed or not? If he or she is not willing to advocate a change, what significant income source can the candidate point to that will even begin to generate enough income to meet the state’s needs?

6. What actions, or inactions, do you propose to take on polarizing hot button issues?

How will you use the power and influence of the governor’s office to affect same sex marriage, abortion rights, offshore oil drilling and illegal immigrations, including the questions of drivers’ licenses, publicly financed health and education for undocumented workers and their families?

7. What kind of administration will you run in regards to special interests and the media, and what values and qualities will you seek in assembling a staff and making appointments?

How will you relate to the media and voters in terms of transparency, open government laws and documents? In your professional life, have you been open and accessible or closed, protected and isolated? Explain your past associations and future intentions regarding the California Teachers Association, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the Business Roundtable, the California Chamber of Commerce and other big interests in the Capitol? Who do you consult with and listen to? Why should voters trust these people in and around the Horseshoe?

Let us know what you think of these questions, and send us your suggestions for others the candidates should be required to answer.

Send email to calbuzzer@gmail.com.

Why Dianne Feinstein Won’t Run for Governor

Monday, March 16th, 2009

In 1987, then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein set off a civic soap opera in San Francisco, performing a public Hamlet act in weighing whether to seek the congressional seat made vacant by the death of U.S. Rep. Sala Burton, widow of legendary Congressman Phil Burton. Feinstein chose not to run and the seat was captured by a wealthy Democratic Party activist who had never held public office: Nancy Pelosi.

Ten years later, Feinstein, by then a U.S. senator, fueled a statewide political drama, spending months agonizing over whether to run for governor in 1998, in a race won by Lt. Gov. Gray Davis. Among those who didn’t run, because his potential funding was frozen until Feinstein finally chose not to go: Leon Panetta.

And five years after that, in 2003, she set off yet another round of what-will-Dianne-do? speculation in political and media circles by mulling a gubernatorial bid in that year’s recall. Again she didn’t run, eventually campaigning to help Davis keep his office; he lost, and Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor.

Now once again, Feinstein is playing coy, teasing reporters and confounding potential 2010 rivals with frequent smiling hints that maybe she will, or maybe she won’t run for governor. “U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein is way out in front of her Democratic challengers should she decide to seek her party’s nomination,” reports the latest Field Poll. “Should Feinstein decide against running, the race becomes a much closer contest.”

As reporters who covered Feinstein over several decades as a mayor, statewide candidate (including her losing 1990 race for governor against Pete Wilson) and U.S. senator, we recognize the signs of her obsessive flirtation with the political spotlight, and offer three words you can take to the bank:

She won’t run.

Putting aside whatever psychological motives cause California’s senior senator to perform a dance of the seven veils anytime there’s a statewide opening, there are key reasons why the scenarios and swirls of speculation about a 2010 gubernatorial candidacy are a waste of time and breath:

Policy: As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and of the Subcommittee on Interior and Environment of Appropriations, Feinstein is better positioned, not only to pursue her passion for national security and foreign policy, but also her concern over big environmental issues such as water policy.

At a time when whoever serves as governor resembles Gulliver staked out by Lilliputians, Feinstein in the twilight of her career is unlikely to abandon the rarefied air of the Hart building to deal with 120 legislative gnomes in Sacramento, who are unlikely to pay her the level of respect she expects as grande dame of California politics.

“She would have no ability to deal with these novices in a term-limited legislature where Assembly speakers cycle in and out every year and a half,” said Garry South, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s consultant in the governor’s race. “She doesn’t have the constitutional capability to deal with these legislators for 15 minutes.”

Politics: As a politician, Feinstein is risk-averse; as a campaigner she is often a cranky warrior, for whom the delights of having breakfast with local ministers at the Barstow Holiday Inn are well-eclipsed by the cozy bonhomie of Georgetown dinner parties. Feinstein despises primary fights and at least some Democrats positioning themselves for 2010 — Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi come to mind — are unlikely to step aside for her, guaranteeing an expensive and exhausting battle.

Her Senate votes on Iraq, the Supreme Court, the Patriot Act and more would open her to scathing attacks from the netroots left. And though she’d probably survive those, the top two Republican contenders, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former EBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman, both are wealthy, self-financed and prepared to savage her.

Feinstein still bears scars from her 1994 near-death experience in the Senate race against former U.S. Rep. Michael Huffington (back when Arianna was a conservative), so taking on deep-pockets billionaires is among her less favored scenarios. Fear of being smacked around by the unlimited millions of erstwhile candidate Al Checchi, her husband’s former business partner at Northwest Airlines, kept her out of the 1998 race.

“She’d be facing a tough primary and a brutal general election,” said non-aligned Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin. “She’d be up against a billionaire no matter who wins the Republican primary.”

Personal: At 75, Feinstein already is older than the Golden Gate Bridge, the other iconic image of her hometown. Being one of 100 members of America’s most exclusive club suits the elite world view and atmosphere she finds most comfortable.

Beyond that, the wealth accumulated in China and other overseas investments during her years in the Senate by her husband, University of California Regents Chairman Richard Blum, would be eye-specked by every opposition researcher and investigative reporter in California, if not the nation, with the specter of a financial scandal, substantive or insinuated, hanging over her campaign.

At a time when a Democrat is president and her party owns big majorities in both houses of Congress, Feinstein’s clout in Washington is greater than ever, and still growing. Look for her to take yet another pass on the governor’s race, sealing her reputation as the chief window shopper of California politics.

This article was published in the Los Angeles Times March 16, 2009