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Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category



Time for Cheapskate Gandalf to Cover the Spread

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

jerrygandalfIt’s time for Gov. Jerry Brown to spend some of the millions in contributions he has on hand for his own re-election against Republican Neel Kashkari. Why? Not because he’s in danger of losing – he’s ahead 52-36% in the latest PPIC poll. But because he risks political humiliation by not covering the Calbuzz 20-point spread.

Our scientifically calculated spread is based on algorithms so complicated even we don’t understand them. But trust us, they take into account the 1998 governor’s race when then-Lt. Gov. Gray Davis beat Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren 58-38% at a time when Republicans constituted about 35% of registered voters compared to 29% today.

So what’s it going to be, Jerry: are you going to let a staffer outdo you in historic ranking of all-time smashing victories?

Given that Brown’s job approval rating is 54%, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, he is woefully under-performing at 52% against a former Goldman Sachs banker, fercryinoutloud.

300-xerxesFun with numbers: Granted, Gov. Gandalf is pulling 83% of Democrats, 44% of independents and even 14% of Republicans while Xerxes of Kashkari is drawing just 71% of Republicans, 40% of independents and 10% of Democrats. [Secret memo to Anne Gust: you really must hunt down those one-in-10 Democrats and give them a good tongue lashing).

But the two measures Brown is throwing money at – the Prop 1 water bond – and the Prop 2 rainy-day fund – aren’t doing all that great: 56-32% for Prop 1 and 49-34% for Prop. 2.

If Gandalf would wave his magic wand and put some money behind a couple of TV ads reminding California voters what it was like before he took over, he could surely beat the Calbuzz spread. Which is the bottom line of this woeful governor’s “race.”

PPIC has lots of nifty findings about ballot measures, which you can find here.

Speaking of Jerry and money: Mega-kudos to Thomas Peele and Josh Richman of the Bay Area News Group for an excellent investigative piece showing a) how Gov. Gandalf over the past few years has quietly accumulated millions of dollars in net worth through a web of real estate investments with big-time Bay Area developers; b) avoids public disclosure of the true size and details of his investments by hiding behind the state’s woefully out-of-date financial disclosure forms; c) is stonewalling on releasing any further information about what the reporters characterize as a “small fortune.”

While the rest of the California MSM was asleep at the wheel, Peele and Richman, with an assist from the indefatigable Howard Mintz of the Murky News, have published a must-read look at the personal finances of Brown and Gust that puts the lie to Gandalf’s public posturing about being the reincarnation of Sister Teresa:

But in recent years Brown has quietly built a small fortune in real estate and stock holdings, in part by going into business with prominent Oakland developers whom he once regulated as that city’s mayor, a Bay Area News Group analysis of Brown’s personal investments shows.

While Gov. Brown was busy over the last four years frugally balancing California’s budget, the state’s chief executive was actively building up his multimillion-dollar real estate portfolio. Just two years ago, he invested in an $11 million office building near Oakland International Airport in an area that is being considered for a massive “Coliseum City” redevelopment project that could include new baseball and football stadiums. And earlier this year Brown and partners broke ground on a 100-unit apartment building on prime real estate they bought in 2007 on the Oakland-Emeryville border.

Yo, Xerxes! If you really want to throw your money away on negative ads, check this out instead of trying to link Brown to dead kids.

(N.B.Calbuzz readers who’ve misplaced their Dr. P.J. Hackenflack decoder rings may ask, “Hey Calbuzz, why do you compare Kashkari – whose parents are Kashmiri Brahmins – to Xerxes, the Persian king who lived from 486 to 465 BC?” Because, grasshoppers, Kashkari looks uncannily like the character Rodrigo Santoro played in “The 300.”)

Also, according to the Calbuzz Style Book: One Sight Gag > 1,000 Wool-Gathering Fulminations. You could look it up.

Press Clips: A Salute to Bill German, True Newsman

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

germanThey buried Bill German on a hilltop overlooking Mt. Tamalpais Sunday, a great editor whose 62-year career at The Chronicle spanned the last great era of newspapering in San Francisco.

Mr. German was a principal player in the Bay Area’s final, fierce and full-scale newspaper war of the 1950s and ‘60s, which secured The Chronicle’s dominant position in the market. “The Voice of the West” then boasted “the largest circulation West of the Mississippi,” back before the World Wide Web, when that really meant something.

Working mostly behind-the-scenes for a half-century afterward, he was a driving force at the Chronicle and in the community, a tough, wise and sometimes tyrannical editor, whose ideas, values and standards shaped the way his audience saw and learned about themselves and where they lived through the pages of the paper, during decades of economic, political and social transformation in the region.

Mr. German, who died last week at his home in San Rafael, was 95.

“He had an absolute feel for what the readers wanted,” said Jack Breibart, himself a superb news editor, who worked for 25 years for the late Mr. German. “He was a great newspaper editor who could do everything on the paper.”

Stomping the Examiner: That bottom line comment appeared in the paper’s obit, written by fellow Chronicle lifer Carl Nolte. Nolte’s piece in itself was a tribute to “German,” as he was inevitably called in the newsroom.

Composed and ordered in the understated style of wordsmithing the late editor favored, it offered a clear and focused account of German’s career, from the great newspaper war to his final years, in a felicitous voice well suited to sophisticated readers.

He worked first under legendary Editor Paul C. Smith, and then under the flamboyant Scott Newhall, whose idea of newspapering was to lure readers with entertaining headlines and stories and keep them interested by producing solid journalism.

Newhall had the ideas; Mr. German made them work. He looked for offbeat stories especially in the 1950s and ’60s when The Chronicle was in an old-fashioned newspaper war with the old San Francisco Examiner, then the largest newspaper north of Los Angeles…

swillAs editor, he picked the top stories and figured out how to play them in the paper. Some of them were pure entertainment — like the paper’s fabled Emperor Norton Treasure Hunt, or a series denouncing the city’s purveyors of coffee: “A Great City’s People Forced to Drink Swill”…

Newhall and German defeated the once-mighty rival Examiner on the streets, but the plutocratic owners of the two papers soon after cut a backroom deal to share publishing expenses while keeping the newsrooms separate; by the 1990s, the small circulation afternoon Brand Ex, as Herb Caen called it, was a financial parasite, sapping revenue and investment capital from the popular morning Chron.

But in 2000, the Hearst Corp., the Examiner’s owners, bought out the Chronicle’s family proprietors and relegated German to the post of “editor emeritus.” In an alleged “tribute” to German last week, former Hearst CEO Frank Bennack termed him “a hugely talented and tough editor who was, to say the least, a formidable competitor for our Examiner during the years before Hearst acquired The Chronicle.”

This just in from the California Republican Party: Jerry Brown is “to say the least, a formidable competitor for our Neel Kashkari.”

Calbuzz looks back: For a Calbuzzard who spent a quarter century working for him, the lasting image is of a 65-year old German happily tossing bundles of the competition’s papers into a dumpster at the Moscone Center on the third night of the 1984 Democratic National Convention.

The Chron got an early copy of the morning paper into the hands of newly nominated presidential candidate Walter Mondale, proclaiming his victory across six columns; Mondale hugely grinned while displaying it for network cameras and wire service photographers in his hotel suite; pleased with the beat, German didn’t want pictures of the other guys’ early paper, distributed on the convention floor, on national TV too – and personally made sure it wouldn’t happen.

jackGerman was a terrific line editor, meticulous, demanding and invariably right, who always sent columnists marked-up printouts with Zen-like, red ink judgments: “Just words” was code for an utter failure; “Good one” was high praise.

His long battle with the entrenched and eccentric City Editor Abe Mellinkoff was legendary. German finally won the war, and the late Mr. Mellinkoff was banished to the op-ed page.

Commenting on a particularly abstruse Abe offering, German returned it to the page editor with this bottom line: “Solution Tomorrow.”

A political reporter, back in the office after months on the campaign trail in 1988, was summoned to German’s office by Helen Greene, his sweet, school librarian secretary, with the six words that chilled anyone who heard them: “Bill would like to see you.”

Seething about the correspondent’s overly eager efforts to be funny in his weekly column, Mr. German offered a mortifying tirade: “Take the goddamn lampshade off your head,” he began, finally ending with a trademark wave that meant, go and sin no more.

“Sitting next to Bill on the news desk was an extraordinary experience that went far beyond editing,” recalled Dave Hyams, one of his bulldog news desk protégés.

“Bill was the impresario of our unique story selection, mixing important politics with reader-grabbing entertainment; master of the Chronicle’s bare-knuckles office politics and turf wars; and thankless buffer for the newsroom without alienating the owners — all done with impish humor and an appreciation of arcane references to movies and sports. The smartest person in the room.”

Former Sports Editor John Curley said German provided him “one enduring bit of advice about editing a section that has carried over” to life in general: “‘if you see a piece of dog shit on the sidewalk, don’t step in it.’”

The healer: Tough as he was, German earned lasting affection from staff members during and after the bitter 1994 newspaper strike.

When management was publishing an anemic edition throughout the strike, German served as fill-in editorial page editor. Rather than predictable anti-union attacks, he wrote delightful, if meandering, reflections about everyday pleasures, including the glories of pasta.

Current editorial page editor John Diaz recalled that after the strike, German led the band of executives who stood at the door to welcome back Guild members with handshakes.

As the staff gathered in the newsroom, tensions and awkwardness at peak levels, German acknowledged that management’s clumsy attempt at a strike paper (thin stories under comical pseudonyms) was no match for the workers’ enterprising online…alternative, the Free Press. You outdid us, German told the returning workers.

“You are The Chronicle,” he told the troops.

perlmanRIP: Last Sunday, about 70 people said farewell to Mr. German at a Jewish burial service on top of a hill at the Mt. Tamalpais Cemetery. Present was an all-star lineup of Chroniclers past and present, including Nanette Asimov, Tom Benet, Breibart, Dave Bush, Bruce Colvin, Audrey Cooper, Diane Curtis, Tom FitzGerald, Gary Fong, Leah Garchik, Richard Geiger, Caroline Grannan, Jesse Hamlin, Hyams, Josh Jeff Johnson, Rod Jones, Marshall Kilduff, David Kleinberg, Gerald Nachman, Nolte, Dave Perlman, Dick Reinhardt, Dan Rosenheim, Steve Rubenstein, Peter Stack, John Stanley and Judy Stone.

Best line of the day, from son Steve: “We’d never let him see our school papers, or else he’d edit them.”

That’s -30-

Kashkari’s TV Spot Betrays His Utter Lack of Decency

Monday, October 20th, 2014

drowningchildEveryone knows that Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is going to crush his Republican challenger, Neel Kashkari, in the November election, probably by 20 percentage points or more. But Kashkari had an opportunity to demonstrate that he’s a class act and that even in defeat, he could display intelligence, grace and poise enough to be taken seriously in some future political endeavor.

Until he released his 30-second TV spot titled “Betrayal,” in which Kashkari “saves” a drowning boy who Brown, cruelly, was allowing to die by siding with teachers and abandoning good little children.

“Jerry Brown betrayed ours kids to protect his donors,” Kashkari tells the viewer, while the little boy he has just pulled from the pool sits dully at his side, apparently gasping for air.

Have You No Decency, Sir? It is a truly disgusting ad. If Kashkari had children – which he doesn’t – he would not possibly have allowed his ad maker – Todd Harris – to come up with such a disturbing and exploitative commercial. It’s hard to believe that any parent watching this ad would be persuaded to support Kashkari, who appears willing to risk a child’s life to make his point.

“I wanted the most powerful image I could to let people know about Jerry Brown’s betrayal,” Kashkari said last week in a radio interview on KQED’s “Forum.” “What’s more shocking — a 30-second television ad or the fact the governor of California is fighting kids in court who’ve asked him for a good education?”

Or a candidate for governor who’s unapologetic about making and airing a commercial showing a child drowning?

Too bad. First he went ballistic at Calbuzz and now he’s shown himself to be without a shred of common decency. And we were hoping that a Republican who does not cling to the right wing’s dogma on abortion, immigration, gay marriage, etc. would show it’s possible to run a dignified campaign for governor in California and do at least as well as Dan Lungren or Meg Whitman.

But the “Betrayal” ad is so repulsive, it’s likely to drive Kashkari’s vote down further – even with Jerry Brown refusing to spend a smidgen of the $23 million or so he’s bankrolled for this campaign.

Way over the line.

CD 17: Khanna Says Race Tied; ‘No Way’ Says Honda

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Ro-Khanna

Calbuzz seldom puts much stock in polls pushed by campaigns, for one simple reason: they don’t tell you the results when they’re not good for their candidate. On the other hand, when a campaign is willing to give us the whole survey and we can see if it makes sense, we’re more likely to bite.

So when the Ro Khanna campaign touted a new poll showing their guy even at 38% with U.S. Rep. Mike Honda in Silicon Valley’s 17th CD, we were willing to take a look, if they gave us the entire thing, from San Francisco pollster David Binder. Which they did.

According to Binder’s poll, the Khanna-Honda race is – against the odds — up for grabs, with Khanna pulling 33% plus 5% of leaners and Honda drawing 34% and 4% of leaners. That leaves about one-fourth of the voters – 24% — undecided and up for grabs with less than three weeks to go.

Some Very Strange Results: But no sooner had the Khanna poll hit the internets when the Honda campaign suddenly discovered, by golly, they also had a poll in hand, claiming to show that Honda is leading Khanna 42-27%, with 31% undecided. But Honda’s campaign didn’t release the whole survey, wouldn’t tell us how voters were selected and contains some inexplicable weird results.

Mike_hondaFor example, 21% of the respondents in the Honda survey, done by David Mermin of Lake Research Partners, volunteered to pollsters that they had already voted. But that’s not possible: ballots had just been mailed out to voters in the district and even Mermin acknowledged “people are lying – there’s a lot of over-reporting.” The Honda poll also includes 38% Asian-Americans (compared to 28% in the Khanna survey). That’s not impossible, but it sure seems unlikely.

Even stranger is this: If the Honda survey is correct, not only would Khanna have made no progress since the primary, when he got 28% of the vote, but Honda would have lost 6 percentage points, or 12.5% of the 48% he got in the primary. And this is supposed to show strength by the incumbent? Hmmm.

According to Binder’s poll for Khanna, his candidate’s favorable-to-unfavorable rating is now 57-14% while Honda’s is 57-28%. So Honda is better known, but his negatives are considerably higher.

The questions on voter preference and favorability were, according to the Khanna survey we’ve been given, asked before any “push” questions that campaigns use to test various themes. That makes them “clean” questions, not affected by information imparted to respondents by later questions.

Testing An Attack Line: The one “push” question in the brief survey of 400 likely voters, was as follows:

Press reports have suggested that that Honda’s Congressional office illegally coordinated with campaign staff by inviting people to an official State Department event for the purposes of securing campaign donations, and that his staff violated ethics rules by running his personal errands on official time. If these allegations were proven true, would you be very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned, or not concerned at all?

The results: very concerned 32%; somewhat concerned 35%; just a little 8%, not at all 20%.  (1% said it’s not true and 4% preferred not to answer.)

The survey then asked: If these ethical issues about Congressman Honda are proven true, would this make you more likely to vote for Khanna, more likely to vote for Honda, or does this make no difference to you?

PollingAbout a third of voters – 32% — said they’de be more likely to vote for Khanna; 8% said they’d be more likely to vote for Honda, and 53% said it would make no difference.

As far as we can tell, the campaign tested no other attack lines against Honda and did not attempt to measure support after this one, except to see if it has some effect – which is obviously does.

The Honda campaign may have tested other communication points, but the campaign did not reveal them.

As far as their voter models, there’s not much difference: both assume 46% Democrats; Khanna has 23% Republicans, 27% Decline-to-states and 4% minor party voters; Honda has 21% Republicans, 30% no party preference and 3% other.

The Khanna survey was conducted Oct. 8-9 among 400 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. The Honda poll was conducted Oct. 7-12 (just as absentee ballots were going out in the mail) among 500 likely voters with a margin of error of 4.4%.

Brown’s Slip Up Gives Neel a Small Opening

Monday, October 13th, 2014

Dad changing diaperJust when you thought the 2014 governor’s race was a done deal and that Jerry Brown had a lock on a fourth term, he has exposed an unexpected weakness that gives Republican Neel Kashkari a shot at a huge chunk of the vote: diaper-changing dads whom Brown has scorned.

It’s not an insignificant bloc of voters. Based on wild-ass guesstimates from our friends at the Field Poll and the Public Policy Institute of California — who have absolutely no responsibility for this number –the Calbuzz Bureau of Weights, Measures and Pampers estimates there could be 500,000 to 700,000 potential diaper dad voters out there, just waiting for that Kashkari mailer explaining how Gov. Brown has dissed them.

Brown in recent weeks repeatedly made national news by acting on landmark laws affecting high-profile matters from smart phones and sexual assault to gun control and plastic bags.

With much less ado, however, he brushed aside a more practical and down-to-earth concern of many average persons of the male persuasion: frazzled dads of the 1 million or so babies and toddlers who struggle with the day-to-day heartbreak of potty training.

With a swipe of his pen, Brown vetoed two bills, which passed the Legislature with near-unanimous support, to require businesses like restaurants and theaters to provide at least one diaper-changing table accessible to men.

jerrybrownlookupBrown’s grocery store scanner? The biggest knock on Brown, both political and personal, is that he’s spent his whole life in elected office, a highborn prince catered to by legions of acolytes and staffers, who’s never had to deal with the real world’s stresses. He erased any doubt about this with his rarefied veto message of the two bills, by Democratic senators Lois Wolk of Davis and Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens:

“At a time when so many have raised concerns about the number of regulations in California, I believe it would be more prudent to leave the matter of diaper changing stations to the private sector. Already, many businesses have taken steps to accommodate their customers in this regard.”

Yeah, right, governor, you tell a toddler carrying a full load to wait until the private sector gets around to providing a space for fathers to clean them up.

“Changing your baby on a bathroom floor is never fun and grosses me out,” posted one dad on a Reddit forum that drew 500 responses to Brown’s action. “I’ve actually gotten pretty decent at changing him while he stands because of the lack of changing stations in men’s restrooms though. I used to just go out to the car but that shouldn’t be the best option because then I have to go the restroom anyway to wash my hands.”

Memo to Jesuit Brown: Semper in excretia sumussolim profundum variat.

dunce-capIf it’s news, it’s news to us: We were entertaining at the summer place in Cote d’Azur when this news first hit our desk, but would betray our raison d’être if we failed belatedly to report that Sacramento is the least covered state capital in the nation.

That is one conclusion that may be drawn from a recent Pew Research Center study of the number of professional journalists covering state government. According to the study, while the number of statehouse reporters has declined steadily since at least 1998, it plummeted 35 percent in the past 10 years; today there are a total of 1,592 reporters covering the 50 state capitals.

With 43, California ranks second in the overall number of state reporters (to Texas, with 53) which works out to just 0.6 journalists per 500,000 residents, easily the worst in the U.S. Nationwide, the median percentage is 1.6 reporters per half-million residents, with small population states like Vermont (10.4), Alaska (5.6) and Wyoming not surprisingly leading the list.

As newspapers have withdrawn reporters from statehouses, others have attempted to fill the gap. For-profit and nonprofit digital news organizations, ideological outlets and high-priced publications aimed at insiders have popped up all over the country, often staffed by veteran reporters with experience covering state government. These nontraditional outlets employ 126 full-time statehouse reporters (17% of all full-time reporters). But that does not make up for the 164 newspaper statehouse jobs lost since 2003.

We name no names.

GimmeRewriteWe’ll always have car dealers: Speaking of moldy reports, we’ve just caught up with the Gallup poll’s ratings about the most and least ethical professions in America; as newspapers grow closer to extinction, and readers’ memories grow shorter, we’re delighted to note that print reporters have risen to only the 8th least trusted workers in the nation.

Goody-goody nurses and grade school teachers top the list, of course (but pharmacists? Seriously? Then what about bartenders?); proclaiming from the rooftops with the booming voice of nearly 100 years of ink-stained wretch service, however, we note that newspaper reporters totally skunk lawyers, TV reporters (with apologies to the Palm Spring Bureau), Mad Men, lawyers, state officeholders, lawyers, car salespeople, Members of Congress, lawyers, lobbyists, and lawyers.