Archive for the ‘Meg Whitman’ Category



Notebook: eMeg, DiFi, Gay Rights, Pensions, Districts

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

The week’s most distressing political post comes from the Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire, reporting that Meg Whitman says she is “definitely not” running for the U.S. Senate in 2012.

Say it ain’t so, Meg.

As the rumor mongers who first proposed the notion that Her Megness should challenge Dianne Feinstein for Senate in 2012, we were disappointed beyond measure to read the piece, filed by Cari Tuna of the Journal’s San Francisco bureau. Beyond our pride of political authorship on this one, let’s face it, a Herself vs. Herself match-up between these two would be one of those once-in-a-lifetime campaigns we’d pay to cover.

Although eMeg threw cold water on our dream scenario, a close reading of the WSJ piece shows that she didn’t slam the door shut, either. Consider:

1-“Definitely not” ain’t exactly a Shermanesque statement, and it leaves her plenty of wiggle room down the road.

2-Even at that, there’s no full quote from Whitman saying she won’t run. The headline and the lede both attribute the fragment phrase “definitely not,” to eMeg, but she doesn’t utter those words inside the story.

3-In fact, her quotes suggest she remains quite interested in public office:

“I want to stay involved in public policy,” Ms. Whitman said in an interview Friday evening. “Now I see things in a way that I” had not prior to running for public office, she said.

4-The aforementioned Ms. Tuna went to Yale, ferhevinsake.  Boola frickin’ boola.

Yeah, we understand that taking on DiFi at this point looks like an absolute  fool’s errand. She’s the most popular pol in California, and the only survey taken on potential match-ups shows her skunking every possible Republican foe, including eMeg, 55-to-35 percent. Plus, the current lineup of loony tunes, losers and snoozers in the GOP’s 2012 presidential field won’t make such a run any easier.

But  eMeg is and, to us, always will be, a special case. Some key factors that make a Senate bid worth her consideration:

1-Despite spending $144 million to lose to Jerry Brown, Whitman’s net worth stayed steady, as the reliable Seema Mehta reports, leaving plenty more where that came from.

2-While Feinstein eked out a win against mega-bucks Michael Huffington in 1994, she still has scars from that campaign, and the prospect of another year-long brawl against a free-spending zillionaire at this stage of her career is not a happy one.

3-Whitman doesn’t have to hire Mike Murphy this time.

4) While eMeg got badly burned in the governor’s race because she illegally employed Nicky Diaz, Feinstein back in the day had her own, murky,  undocumented worker situation, as the late, great Susan Yoachum reported, which could neutralize the issue in a second Whitman statewide run.

5-Whitman’s business record, from eBay to Goldman Sachs, got a pretty fair airing last year, but it’s been a while since reporters and Republican oppo types took a close look at the financial dealings of Feinstein hubby Dick Blum, which could make for some interesting campaign reading, not to mention TV attack ads.

6) Most importantly, a Senate run would afford Her Megness a splendid second chance to have dinner with Calbuzz, thereby reversing the biggest blunder of her failed campaign for governor.

We’re just sayin’.

DiFi update: Feinstein meanwhile has been staking out a very high-profile position on behalf of gay rights. Our old friend Hank Plante, the former longtime political editor of KPIX-TV, reports:

“Senator Feinstein on Wednesday introduced legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a target of the gay rights movement since it was passed in 1996.

The law, which DiFi voted against when it was enacted, blocks the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples:

‘My own belief is that when two people love each other and enter the contract of marriage, the Federal government should honor that,’ she said.

Her move is the latest twist in her long evolution on the rights of gays and lesbians. Feinstein was one of the first San Francisco politicians to actively court gay voters when she first ran for the Board of Supervisors in 1969.

In 1982, as the city’s mayor, however, she angered many in the gay community by vetoing the city’s first domestic partners’ bill, saying the bill was poorly drafted.  Later in her term, however,  Feinstein’s AIDS budget for S.F. was bigger than President Reagan’s AIDS budget was for the entire nation.

‘Of all the big-league Democrats in the United States, Feinstein’s was undoubtedly the most consistently pro-gay voice,’ the late Randy Shilts wrote in “And the Band Played On,” his history of the AIDS epidemic.

In 2008, Feinstein became the most prominent political voice opposing Proposition 8, the ban on California’s same-sex marriages. She said that her views on gay marriage had ‘evolved’ over the years from originally not supporting it, to enthusiastically supporting it today.

At her Wednesday press conference, DiFi cited the 18,000 same-sex couples who were legally married in California before Prop. 8 passed. DOMA prevents those couples, and other legally married lesbian and gay Americans, from receiving survivors’ social security benefits, from filing joint federal income taxes and from taking unpaid leave to care for a sick partner.

Her bill now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Feinstein is a long-time member.”

New Field Poll: California voters now believe pension benefits for public employees are too generous and strongly support a host of reforms – but oppose the idea of taking away their collective bargaining rights as part of a budget deal.

The new findings are certain to sharpen the Capitol debate over public pensions, which not only  is a key issue in negotiations between Governor Gandalf and Republican lawmakers, but also the focus of a war of words between Treasurer Bill Lockyer and the Little Hoover Commission, which recently recommended many of the reforms tested in the Field survey.

Field honcho Mark DiCamillo reported that a 42% plurality of voters believes that pension benefits for public workers are too generous, while 34% say they are about right and 14% that they are not generous enough. This represents a marked shift from 2009, when just 32% of registered voters told Field benefits were too generous, 40% said they were about right and 16% not generous enough.

Significantly, however, 50% of voters oppose combining a deficit reduction measure with legislation that would take away some collective bargaining rights of unionized public sector workers, a move that was taken by Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, and set off a volatile political battle between labor and Republican politicians across the country. In California, 42% say they would support an effort to limit public employee collective bargaining.

The complete Field Poll can be found here after about 6 am today.

Partisanship and Redistricting: While Republicans squawked at the notion of hiring Karin MacDonald of the  nonpartisan Statewide Database at UC Berkeley to draw new district lines, they’re suddenly silent about the only other candidate for the job — Republican Douglas Johnson,  a fellow at the conservative Rose Institute and the head of National Demographics, Inc. Wonder whyHere’s an idea: hire them both and make them split the contract and agree on a proposal — like newspapers do when they hire a Democratic and Republican pollster.

How Sacto Is Like Cairo: Why Difi Rivals Are Doomed

Monday, February 7th, 2011

One of the inherent strengths of local news operations, way too rarely exercised (see: newspapers, death of) is the daily opportunity to report how and why big global events matter to readers and viewers on the home front.

Tom Meyer, the blogosphere’s incarnation of  Thomas Nast, ofers a bit of this type of journalistic service with his latest take today, showing how the dramatic events in Egypt are a kind of real time Rorschach test which provide folks all along the political spectrum a chance to indulge in reassuring themselves, and insisting to others, that they’ve been right, right, right all along.

Underscoring the point, Frank Rich, the Pauline Kael of American politics, batted out a stinging indictment of the MSM this week, for its incessant braying of the clichéd claim that the crucial post hoc ergo propter hoc about the Egyptian populist revolt, which people there foolishly think is about their nation’s authoritarianism, economy and political corruption, is the role played in the events by…Twitter.

“Let’s get a reality check here,” said Jim Clancy, a CNN International anchor, who broke through the bloviation on Jan. 29 by noting that the biggest demonstrations to date occurred on a day when the Internet was down. “There wasn’t any Twitter. There wasn’t any Facebook,” he said. No less exasperated was another knowledgeable on-the-scene journalist, Richard Engel, who set the record straight on MSNBC in a satellite hook-up with Rachel Maddow. “This didn’t have anything to do with Twitter and Facebook,” he said. “This had to do with people’s dignity, people’s pride. People are not able to feed their families.”

“War,” Ambrose Pierce famously said, “is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” But it’s hard to escape the sad conclusion that the corporate organs of the MSM have failed to do much educating about events in the Mideast; those in search of more serious and substantial information could do worse than to check out the live streaming reportage of Al Jazeera’s English coverage.

Thanks to the cowardice of broadcast and cable executives everywhere, this news service currently is all but unavailable anywhere in the country, a state of affairs that the organization is trying to address with its February 10 “Meet-up to demand Al Jazeera on your TV,” an online campaign which,  paradoxically, mirrors the very demands for the free flow of ideas now being sounded in Egypt.

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Difi and the GOP: Since Calbuzz launched, our Department of Mission Statements and Corporate Branding Jive has churned out any number of cheesy memorable slogans in a pitiful attempt to justify our existence to help you, our loyal readers, understand who we are and what we do.

Shooting the Wounded,” of course, reflects the historical role of sofa-bound political writers and editorialists everywhere, while “Burning Our Bridges One at a Time,” reflects our own deep and abiding belief in the solemn constitutional responsibility of the press to hurl brickbats, cheap shots and childish insults wildly and randomly, without regard to race, creed, color, sexual orientation, partisan belief or political persuasion.

Another great ideal in which Our Founders believed deeply is this:  “Politics is the greatest spectator sport of all.”

So it was that we began trying to drum up interest in the 2012 Senate race before the ink was even dry on the statement of vote from the 2010 elections. In furtherance of this goal, we specifically have encouraged Republican gov race loser Meg Whitman to take a crack at venerable Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein next year.

Alas, however, our project has now been dealt a severe blow, with the release of a survey by Public Policy Polling that shows Feinstein crushing Whitman 55-35% in a simulated contest among voters – the same margin she holds over former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, who got stomped by Difi’s sister Senator-for-life, Barbara Boxer.

Other matchups: Feinstein over former Congressman Tom Campbell 51-37%; Herself over former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner 52-34%, and  Our Dianne smacking Darrell Issa (R-Car Alarm) by 54-33%, and crunching former Gov. Arnold Schwarzmuscle 59-25%.

(Weed whacking methodology alert) The only consolation for the potential GOP challengers (and for Calbuzz) is that PPP’s survey is an interactive voice response (IVR) poll, commonly known as a robopoll – in which a computer interacts with a respondent (like polls run by Survey USA and Rasmussen). And, heaven help us, Dean Debnam of PPP tells Calbuzz that their sample was taken from voter records (which would be fine if you were doing live calls and asking for that person) but the computer doesn’t know whether it’s interacting with the actual voter from the sample or someone else in the household. Sheesh.

Still, the numbers are of a consistency and magnitude that they’re likely to discourage potential GOP contenders pretty quickly, particularly those pondering the wisdom of tossing $1 billion or so large into a rat hole.

To which Calbuzz says: Take heart eMeg. After spending just shy of $180 million to lose the governor’s race, why not pop for a real survey and find out if you’d have any shot against Queen Mum?

Because. let’s face it, this whole in-between-elections, public policy thing ain’t much except a guaranteed cure for insomnia, and we’d be willing to pay to cover a cage match between you and Difi. We’d even give you a second chance to go to dinner with us.

Reagan Agonistes: Amid the orgy of commentary and political posturing accompanying the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, here’s the half-dozen items atop our recommended reading list:

1-Most intriguing op-ed was penned for the Orange County Register under the byline of the aforementioned Difi . We’re not sure we buy her argument that RR’s greatest strength was his “bipartisanship,” but she’s been going on about the importance of “governing from the center” for four decades, so you’ve at least got to hand it to her for consistency.

2- The most authoritative source on all things Reagan remains the canon of  Lou Cannon, who started covering him as a Sacto correspondent for the San Jose Mercury News.

3-Best quickly assembled, 60-second guide to memorable Reagan quotes is found over at Huffpost.

4-Most interesting observations on what made Reagan a first-rate politician come from Ken Khachigian, who turned in a workmanlike job of first person reporting about the great man’s speechifying tradecraft. (H/T Flashreport).

5-Most stomach-churning self-serving effort to identify with Reagan comes from, who else, Sarah Palin. Sorry, Lady Sled Dog, “we’re on the road to ruin,” is just about as far from his politics as it’s possible to be.

6-Best single quote comes from Richard Reeves, via Joel Fox“Ronald Reagan is still president,” he said, meaning the country is living with a political philosophy set out by Reagan. True, true, true, unfortunately.

Bonus read on Reagan: ThinkProgress has a little gem of a piece that will set conservatives’ hair on fire, including factoids on Reagan’s record as a serial tax-raiser.

Brown Goes Public With Tax Plan Vote Demand

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Blunt, feisty and funny, Gov. Jerry Brown called out Republicans Monday night, aggressively challenging them to allow Californians to vote on his proposal to extend $12 billion in temporary tax increases – or have the guts to put  forth their own, all-cuts budget plan.

With a civil but tough tone, he also directly confronted the statewide coalition of local officials who are furiously campaigning against his bid to eliminate redevelopment agencies, saying that “core services” like education, police, fire and health care for the poor are more crucial than their real estate developments projects; positioning himself directly in the political center, he also urged Democrats and liberal advocates for education and social welfare programs to make their own sacrifice, by accepting the $12 billion of cuts he wants.

As a political matter, Brown aimed his 1,722 words, not at the state office holders who crowded into the Assembly chamber to hear him, but at millions of voters beyond the Capitol.  Seeking to build popular support for what he repeatedly called his “honest” strategy to erase a $25 billion deficit, he clearly made the calculation that the time had come to frame the political debate in public, after weeks of low-key, backroom talks with lawmakers.

From the time I first proposed what I believe to be a balanced approach to our budget deficit – both cuts and a temporary extension of current taxes – dozens of groups affected by one or another of the proposed cuts have said we should cut somewhere else instead. Still others say we should not extend the current taxes but let them go away. So far, however, these same people have failed to offer even one alternative solution.

While Brown embroidered his 14-minute State of the State address with appeals for bipartisan cooperation to restore the “exceptionalism” of the California dream, his central message was clear, focusing on turning up the pressure on Republicans to abandon their hold-our-breath-til-we turn-blue stance against providing the handful of votes needed to put a tax measure on the June ballot.

“That’s his style,” said Robert Huckfeld, political science professor at UC Davis and director of the UC Center in Sacramento. “To his credit, he doesn’t pull his punches and he tells it like he sees it.”

“You don’t often see politicians speak that way,” agreed UC Davis environmental science professor Mark Schwartz. “But he’s got nothing to lose and he’s got to get something done.”

The money quotes:

Under our form of government, it would be unconscionable to tell the electors of this state that they have no right to decide whether it is better to extend current tax statutes another five years or chop another $12 billion out of schools, public safety, our universities and our system of caring for the most vulnerable…

When democratic ideals and calls for the right to vote are stirring the imagination of young people in Egypt and Tunisia and other parts of the world, we in California can’t say now is the time to block a vote of the people.

In the ordinary course of things, matters of state concern are properly handled in Sacramento. But when the elected representatives find themselves bogged down by deep differences which divide them, the only way forward is to go back to the people and seek their guidance. It is time for a legislative check-in with the people of California.

Formally dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, Brown in his plain-spoken words and firm demeanor took on the role of the tough-love truth-teller he had promised during his campaign for governor. Sounding like the adult in a roomful of squabbling adolescents, he pleaded for an end to silly partisan gamesmanship:

This is not the time for politics as usual…

If you are a Democrat who doesn’t want to make budget reductions in programs you fought for and deeply believe in, I understand that. If you are a Republican who has taken a stand against taxes, I understand where you are coming from.

But things are different this time. In fact, the people are telling us–in their own way–that they sense that something is profoundly wrong. They see that their leaders are divided when they should be decisive and acting with clear purpose.

Responding for the California Republican Party — but not necessarily for all the Republicans in the Legislature — CRP Chairman Ron Nehring proclaimed,  “We are determined to fight this unaffordable tax hike, no matter how many ways the Democrats try to soft sell it. Should the governor ever get around to embracing the serious, structural reforms our state needs, we’ll be equally supportive in those efforts.”

Nor were Brown’s allies on the labor left willing to fall in line. Art Pulaski, leader of the California Labor Federation priased Brown’s “vision for long-term recovery that’s been painfully absent in recent years,” but he decried “deep cuts to In-Home Supportive Services, health care and higher education {that] threaten to undermine his vision to rebuild California.”

A few other observations:

The influence of Anne: In his first turn as governor, Bachelor Brown  built a well-earned reputation for rudeness, as he routinely and dismissively dispensed with the niceties of politics. As a 72-year old married to the savvy former business executive Anne Gust, his approach last night was  civil and courteous, despite its tough message. He thanked lawmakers for their “cordiality and good will,” repeatedly invited them to share ideas with him and declared that he looked forward to “working with all of you,” doing a good job of at least faking sincerity.

Ad libs: A year and a half ago, Calbuzz recounted a LMAO appearance Brown made on CNBC   in which he broke the fourth plane, holding a white sheet of paper in front of his face and inviting reporter Michelle Caruso-Cabrera to truncate the interview after she ascribed craven political motives to a case he had brought as attorney general and tried to shine on his attempt to discuss its merits.

In his speech last night, Brown again broke through the bounds of convention, departing from his text  several times to deliver one-liner asides to the assembled politicians, in the manner of a comic telling jokes to the band: At one point he literally called attention to the elephant in the room: “I want to see some Republicans clapping,” he said as stone-faced GOP lawmakers sat on their hands; “That’s ambiguous,” he cracked at another point, after saying public pensions should be “fair to both taxpayers and workers alike.”

The vision thing: As he did in his inaugural address, Brown coupled his unvarnished description of the state’s budget woes with a high-minded appeal to the romantic ideal of California, leavening his message of painful choices with an optimistic view of the future:

Wherever I look, I see difficult choices. But I also see a bright future up ahead and a California economy that is on the mend…

We have the inventors, the dreamers, the entrepreneurs, the venture capitalists and a vast array of physical, intellectual and political assets. We have been called the great exception because for generations Californians have defied the odds and the conventional wisdom and prospered in totally unexpected ways. People keep coming here because of the dream that is still California, and once here, their determination and boundless energy feeds that dream and makes it grow.

Bottom line: While not as trenchant as the inaugural, the SOS was notable for its pull-no-punches candor — a top-notch performance.

Final count: eMeg $159 million, Krusty $36 million; 4.4-to-1 Whitman over Brown. She spent about $38.50 per vote; he spent about $6.60 per vote…But if you add in the primaries, the grand total for eMeg was $178.5 million and for Brown it was $36.7 million.

Secret Battle on Pinocchio Hat; Flash Nixes Tax Vote

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Now it can be told: At a crucial point in the race for governor, an internal campaign debate among Jerry Brown’s top advisers broke out over a hard-hitting TV ad that portrayed Republican rival Meg Whitman as Pinocchio, Calbuzz has learned.

The key tactical question at stake in the behind-the-scenes political battle: Whether or not to put a little yellow Tyrolean hat with a golden feather on top of eMeg’s head in the spot.

We’re not making this up.

In a wide-ranging investigation, our Department of High-Impact Probes and Overstuffed File Cabinets ferreted out the story via a series of confidential interviews with High-Powered Political Sources.

Because of the extreme sensitivity of the matter, Calbuzz scrupulously applied Bob Woodward’s rules for wide-ranging investigations, promising our sources anonymity in exchange for their pledges of candor, with the agreement that we would tell the story in the omniscient third-person voice, with direct quotations more or less aligned with reality.

Sources gave this account:

Shortly after Labor Day, Whitman unleashed an ad with Bill Clinton hitting Brown on his most vulnerable soft spot saying he was a tax-and-spend liberal who could not be trusted. Brown compounded the problem by insulting Clinton’s proclivities at a public event. But after Brown apologized to Clinton for his loose lips, Elvis put out a statement saying the charge he’d made in the 1992 debate clip Whitman was using was in fact based on an erroneous CNN report.

Newspapers, TV and radio outlets and online sites all reported that the Whitman ad was simply not true. But eMeg stood by the ad, arguing that it was accurate. Brown’s people needed to say Whitman was lying — in the nicest possible way, of course.

No Relation to Steve Glazer

Their consensus on how to answer, suggested by adman David Doak, was a 15-second spot that pictured eMeg as Pinocchio, with her nose growing during the ad to the size of a baseball bat, as a narrator recounted some of the lies she was telling about Brown.*

The ad was quickly produced by Joe Trippi’s shop with the enthusiastic endorsement of candidate Brown (who to this day never tires of claiming credit for it, or of confronting complete strangers to demand they tell him whether they saw it during the campaign) through the use of not-very-sophisticated graphics technology that made Meg’s nose get longer and longer.

Then the trouble began.

When the media team turned in the ad, alarm bells went off in the head of campaign manager Steve Glazer. He was deeply troubled by one crucial detail: was placing the little yellow hat on Meg’s head too demeaning to her?

Demeaning?” one source who liked the ad replied to Glazer’s question. “Steve, we’re making her nose grow four feet – how could it be more demeaning than that?”

Still, when Glazer’s concern was communicated to Brown and his wife, Anne Gust, Brown’s Oakland command ordered up another version of the spot that did not have the little hat on Meg’s head.

“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” one source thought to himself.

Nonetheless, alternative versions were produced, as the difficult question – hat or no hat – continued to divide Team Brown. Finally, a coast-to-coast conference call was convened, and the issue was put directly to Brown’s most senior media strategist.

“Do you think the hat is too demeaning?” he was asked.

Long seconds passed, while the fate of the entire Brown effort – along with the future of California – hung in the balance.

“No,” the Washington-based strategist said.

The rest is history.

The ad went on the air on September 14, and Meg’s negatives kept growing and growing, not unlike her Pinocchio nose, as Brown steadily built a lead. The most astonishing thing about the story may be that the Armies of Whitman did not issue a snarky statement about the hat — practically the only thing they didn’t whine about during the entire race.

* (For the record, the ad was actually kind of a rip-off of our oft-used Pinocchio-Meg graphic, not to mention totally derivative of a stock campaign ad that goes back to at least 1988).

Redeveloping redevelopment: Tom Meyer today nails the full-on absurdity of the outrage over the governor’s move to shutter the operations of local redevelopment agencies that’s being voiced by local political hacks and real estate developers across the state.

Armed with the new PPIC poll, which shows two-thirds of Californians agree with him on the issue, Brown is playing a strong political hand, notwithstanding the heavy breathing and harrumphing by a coalition of mayors who called on him this week to protest the long overdue bid to end the redevelopment scam of skimming property tax revenues for the purpose of empire building and skid greasing for way too many sleazy projects in which oleaginous developers and greedy politicians engage in mutual back scratching in an atmosphere of soft corruption.

Latest evidence of how we’ll all manage to do just fine without redevelopment’s ’50s- and ’60s-era land use theory and practice comes in a dandy piece by Jim Miller of the Press-Enterprise.

In an impressive display of Actual Reporting, Miller checked the mandated state reports filed by a batch of agencies and found they “list few, if any, jobs created and little in the way of new construction or building rehabilitation.” Best stuff: the hemming and hawing by officials desperate to explain away the story told by the very documents they filed themselves, including this gem from John Shirey, president of the (all rise) California Redevelopment Association:

Unfortunately, those reports often get filled out by finance people because most of the report is financial,” Shirey said. “Finance people, they’re not in sales. They don’t take advantage of the chance to put down accomplishments.

“If it doesn’t get picked up by the redevelopment staff, then you see what you see, which is a lot of blanks,” he said.

So we see.

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No-diversity university: Here’s how bad the sexism was at last weekend’s big Berkeley conference on the governor’s race: Even Calbuzz noticed.

Somewhere between the first panel, featuring eight white guys, and the final panel, featuring seven white guys, we took a demographic stroll through the lineups for all of the two days of presentations. Counting panelists and moderators, here are the stats:

31 men
5 women
34 white people
2 minorities

Apparently, we weren’t alone in raising our untrimmed eyebrows at the disconnect between the conference population and that of, you know,  California. Soon after the event ended, some pretty pissed off political women started posting this video on their Facebook pages, and it’s now careening far and wide across the internets.  More from the estimable Joe Garafoli.

Flash tells why Brown’s tax measure should not be on the ballot

In response to the post on Calbuzz last week arguing that lawmakers should place on the ballot Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to extend, for five years, certain tax increases that were passed in 2009, we asked our friend Jon Fleischman, editor and publisher of the conservative FlashReport (whom we likened to a feudal yeoman), to present the other side. Here’s his argument.

The main reason why legislators should not put a tax increase measure on the ballot is that raising taxes is a bad idea, and the idea of placing a measure before voters in essence plays “kick the can” for four or five months, when problems should be addressed now.

Based on the fact that voters rejected the last seven tax-increase measures before them, and in fact rejected these exact tax increases (but for a shorter duration) in a 2009 special election, the Legislature should not be going to the public again. This is a democratic republic, and our elected representatives should do their jobs.

It is also important to look at the politics of a special election on raising taxes. The reality is that all of the various special interest groups (with the state’s cash-heavy public employee unions at the front of the line) will spend literally tens of millions of dollars to influence voters.

It will be a full-scale effort to use any means possible to connive overtaxed Californians into taxing themselves even more. Unfortunately the ability of taxpayer protection groups to raise the kinds of funds it takes to seriously debunk the landslide of misleading ads is very limited. That is why it is critical to hold the line against a ballot measure at all costs.

An additional consideration for Republican legislators is that after seven years of Arnold Schwarzenegger being the top Republican in the state (we saw some of the effects of the impact of that this last November), we need to restore the brand name of the Grand Old Party. Once a party that voters knew would oppose higher taxes, now that message is unclear. Nothing could be more damaging to a party trying to regain relevance that to abandon such a core issue.

You can be absolutely certain that a well-financed campaign for those tax increases on a special election ballot would make a huge deal over the “bi-partisan cooperation” to place the tax increase before voters. It would completely undermine the ability of the minority party to make the case for making a change in who is in charge of the Capitol.

If the left wants the public to vote on higher taxes, they can qualify a ballot measure (the unions can do that with just a fraction of their campaign funds). But at least if they go that route, it will be made clear to voters that Republicans had no part in it.

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.