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Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category



Ex-Insurance Boss Poizner Seeks Non-Partisan Re-do

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

poiznerWin or lose in November, Steve Poizner already has made history.

Poizner, a 61-year old Silicon Valley zillionaire, finished first in the June 5 balloting for Insurance Commissioner — the first political independent ever to qualify for election to state office in California.

His victory, with 42 percent in a four-candidate field, carries huge political significance, a groundbreaking achievement in an election that marked the decline of the once-mighty California Republican Party to third-place status in the state.

Pre-primary figures show GOP registration – 25.1 percent – not only trailing the Democrats’ 44.4 percent, but also the steadily increasing share of Californians self-identified as No Party Preference independents, now 25.5 percent.

LonelyElephantSound of his own drummer? Cue the sound of the late President Reagan whirling in his Simi Valley resting place.

“If I can pioneer this path of demonstrating that you can run as an independent and win, it will open the door for other people who don’t want to be partisan warriors, but just want to serve,” Poizner said in a telephone interview with Calbuzz. “And if I do, it’ll be a very disruptive thing, in a positive way.”

First, however, the new champion of non-partisan politics faces a big, awkward political obstacle: his own words and record as a slashing partisan Republican.

The back-story. Political enthusiasts will recognize Poizner as the correct answer to a California trivia question: Who is the only Republican not named Schwarzenegger elected to statewide office in the 21st century?

In 2006, he captured the same office he now seeks, when he campaigned for Insurance Commissioner as an old-school, moderate Republican, stomped a Democratic hack and then applied his entrepreneurial skills, honed while making a private sector fortune in GPS technology, to one term in office.

Four years later, he blundered. Badly.

poiznervpoiznerUnder the old party-line primary system, Poizner reinvented himself as a fierce right-wing warrior to campaign for governor. He bashed Republican rival Meg Whitman, the eventual GOP nominee, as squishy soft on immigration, demanded an end to education and health care benefits for “illegal aliens,” called for National Guard troops to patrol the Mexican border and even backed a controversial Arizona law requiring people to carry proof of citizenship or legal status.

Born-again on immigration Given the shift in California’s political dynamics — where a strong majority of voters believes undocumented immigrants should be provided a pathway to legal residence and even citizenship — it’s not surprising that Poizner has since  jettisoned his retrograde stance on immigration.

“I wish I had the 2010 campaign to do over again,” Poizner said, “because I no longer think my views (expressed then) on what to do with undocumented folks make any sense. And I regret it.”

johnkasich“The solution that I concur with is similar to (Ohio) Gov. (John) Kasich’s which is if you’re undocumented here in California then we should put you on a pathway to become documented. If you a dreamer, we should put you on a pathway to become a citizen. That’s what I believe.”

Was his decision to run as an independent a rejection of the Republican Party? Calbuzz asked him.

“No,” Poizner said. “Do you feel fully in tune with the Republican Party still?” we asked.

“I wouldn’t say that necessarily,” he said. “I personally don’t have any interest in partisan battles. Not where I am right now. I am interested in being a problem solver for California. I think it would be really great if California had a super strong two-party system. We don’t. We have a monopoly going on there. I think offering more viable choices to voters would be a great thing.”

He said he doesn’t really have a problem with the Republican Party — whose voters he’ll need if he hopes to win in November — but partisanship is just not his thing right now. When push comes to shove, it sounds to us like Poizner is at heart a Kasich Republican (he worked to elect him president in 2016) masquerading, posing, functioning — for now — as an independent.

ricardolaraAnd in this corner. Alas for Poizner, his 2010 harbinger of Trump performance will be recycled incessantly by general election foe and Democratic state Senator Ricardo Lara of Long Beach, seeking to make history himself, as California’s first openly gay statewide office holder.

“I’m glad he repents what he said,” a poker-faced Lara recently told political writer Joe Garafoli. “It’s an important part of his coming to terms with the new political reality.”

While disowning his own right-wing adventurism, Poizner remains mindful that he can’t win as an independent without attracting Republicans, no matter how toxic the Trump and GOP brands are in California, along with NPPs and moderate Democrats, as well.

Thus he conspicuously tap dances around questions seeking his views about the current occupant of the White House.

After Poizner outlined his affinity for Kasich, Calbuzz asked: ”So you don’t really have a problem with the Republican Party – you have a problem with Trumpism?”

“I wouldn’t put it that way,” Poizner replied. “I have a problem with all the problems that aren’t getting solved in California. I wouldn’t put the burden of being responsible for all those problems on one party of the other. Or one person or the other.”

Bottom line. As a practical matter, immigration and most other hot button issues have little to do with being Insurance Commissioner, a low-profile but powerful autonomous gig overseeing 1,400 employees, a $250 million budget and a $300 billion insurance sector, the fifth largest insurance market in the world.

So despite his historic quest, Poizner cautiously focuses on specific and technical aspects of the job, desperate to avoid involvement in the bitter tribal and cultural wars Trump has ignited across the nation.

Which is why he argues: “There’s no room for partisan politics at the Department of Insurance.”

Unless you’re a partisan.

A New Definition for California’s Political Sweet Spot

Monday, June 11th, 2018

venn2California voters demonstrated anew last week that the state has developed a special brand of democratic epistemology – mas o menos liberalism — that has been shaped by Propositions 13 and 187; Ronald Reagan and  Edmund Browns Sr. and Jr.; the Santa Barbara oil spill; Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers; the Free Speech Movement and Watts riot, not to mention the institution of Dianne Feinstein.

Voters most of the time will cluster somewhere around the candidates who seem to fit the sensible, moderate-left world view that comprises the overlap or union, of California’s political Venn diagram: pro-choice, environment friendly, fiscally responsible, anti-authoritarian, racially and religiously tolerant, committed to science and faith.

This, of course, is the middle of the stream that Jerry Brown famously advocated in his paddle on the left, paddle on the right aphorism years ago.

Finding Middle Ground. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Attorney Gen. Xavier Becerra, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Controller Betty Yee, former Ambassador Eleni Kounalakis and State Sen. Ed Hernandez all are California mas o menos liberals – some more, some less left than others, but none out on the wingnut fringe.

And as our friend Paul Rogers sharply observed, the statewide affinity for environmental protection and conservation won throughout California as well, further underscoring voters’ sense of what is good for the Golden State.

poiznerEven in the race for Insurance Commissioner – perhaps the most overlooked contest on last Tuesday’s ballot – the finalists, who differ sharply on support for single-payer health care, are essentially centrists – mas or menos.

Steve Poizner (menos), who held the job before as a Republican before losing the GOP governor’s nomination to Meg Whitman in 2010, ran and won this time as an independent, who opposes single-payer health insurance. Whether his immigrant-bashing in the governor’s race overshadows his new pledge of independence, remains to be seen. State Sen. Richard Lara (mas), a fierce advocate for single-payer healthcare, is openly-gay and endorsed by virtually every living Democrat.

A lot will depend on how much of his personal fortune Poizner decides to spend. But however the race is resolved in November, by becoming the first independent to truly have a chance of winning a statewide constitutional office (our friend Dan Schnur never had the money), Poizner has demonstrated that there still might be hope for right-of-center politicians in California, as Calbuzz has argued since 2010.

In the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Marshall Tuck, a staunch charter school advocate, will face off against Tony Thurmond, a pro-teachers union candidate in a race that either could win. But this kind of  polarization is an exception in a competitive statewide contest.

Thanks to hard work behind the scenes by some state and national operatives, Democrats, who seemed poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, will have competitive candidates in virtually all of the seven GOP congressional districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Some are more competitive than others, but most seem to have learned the lesson of Georgia and Pennsylvania: that winning a federal race in a marginal district demands a campaign focused on issues of concern to the men and women in their districts without excessive attention to the potential impeachment of Donald Trump.

Across the country as well — where California’s example is often a model — voters seemed more comfortable with the calm-but-determined regular Democrats than they were with Berniecract progressives, as Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast wrote in the New York Times:

But the results prove that the conventional story line about the Democrats charging damn the torpedoes to the left is overstated…

For now, though, the only real candidates are congressional ones, and they are a mixed lot, reflecting the point — which I never tire of making, because some people seem not to want to accept it — that while the Republicans can gain a House majority with only conservatives, the Democrats can’t do so with only liberals. There simply aren’t enough liberal districts or voters.

Here’s hoping the Dem presidential wannabes take heed.

Why Tony V is Likely to Suck Wind in Tuesday Vote

Monday, June 4th, 2018

LA LABOR UNRESTIf the final Berkeley IGS poll before Tuesday’s preliminary election is correct, the California governor’s race will pit Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco, against Republican businessman John Cox of Rancho Santa Fe. The survey suggests Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles and speaker of the Assembly, has failed to capture enough Latinos and voters from the L.A. area to make it into the runoff.

According to the survey by the Institute of Governmental Studies, Newsom stands at 33%, Cox at 20%, Villaraigosa at 13% and Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen at 12%.

Had the finding come from the late-lamented Field Poll, we’d bank on it. But as we’ve noted before, polling in California – with reliance on constructed samples of online voters and some that require those chosen to take email surveys – is still a work in progress. This is especially a problem in predicting the outcome for candidates whose primary appeal is to voting populations who are less likely to be online or willing to click onto an internet survey. Like Latinos, perhaps?

dicamillonewMaybe IGS is Right What offers some comfort about the IGS email poll is that it’s similar to the findings by the Public Policy Institute of California’s last poll – a traditional random-digit-dial telephone survey (but not with known likely voters) which had the race at 25% for Newsom, 19% for Cox and 15% for Villaraigosa.

Mark DiCamillo, the former director of the Field Poll who now runs polling by IGS at Berkeley, and Paul Mitchell, of Political Data Inc., which supplied the sample of voters with email addresses, are professionals with no ax to grind. But the survey’s methodology – one that DiCamillo himself used to reject before rising costs caused a foxhole conversion – relies on complex weighting of results and past voting histories to create a simulation of the expected June voter population.

Here’s how IGS explains what it did. “The poll was completed online among 2,106 likely voters May 22-28, 2018 in English and Spanish by distributing email invitations to stratified random samples of registered voters throughout California.  Each email invitation asked the randomly selected voter to participate in a short non-partisan survey conducted by IGS.” Selected voters “were provided with a link to the IGS website where the survey questionnaire was housed.”

So, first, IGS was sampling only registered voters for whom they had an email address – something not required of all voters. Then, those people contacted had to opt into the survey by going online to take the survey. This is anything but random; it’s a self-selected group of individuals for whom Political Data Inc. had an email address.

crankyoldmanBig Weights Then, once the results were collected, “post-stratification weights were applied to align the larger registered voter sample to a wide range of political and demographic characteristics of the state’s overall registered voter population.” In other words, if IGS collected responses from too many cranky, older, white, college-educated, liberal men from Santa Barbara or Santa Cruz (with nothing to do but take online surveys), we name no names, those cases had to be weighted down to reflect their proper proportion of the known population of registered voters.

Then, “Likely voters were then identified from the overall sample of registered voters, based on their stated intentions about voting in the June primary and their history of voting in past primary elections.” (Or if they had already voted.)

This is extraordinarily complex. The use of mathematical weights – some inevitably quite large — to align the sample to political and demographic characteristics of the registered voter population is a mixture of math, political science and alchemy. And no matter how you cut it, you can only weight up or down results from the people whose emails you have and who opted to take the time to go online to fill out your survey in the first place. If only older, well-off, college-educated Latinos took the survey, they’re the only Latinos you have to work with.

DiCamillo says he went to great lengths to assure that didn’t happen. He says IGS sent 20,000 additional emails to Latinos to be sure to get an adequate and representative sample of this pivotal demographic.

Which brings us to what the survey found that – if accurate – will keep Villaraigosa from making the finals.

thumbs-downHome Alone According to IGS, Tony V is drawing just 32% of the Latino vote and a measly 18% from the Los Angeles region where 51% of likely voters hold an unfavorable view of him.  His pull in LA is just 2 percentage points better than Cox is doing and about half of Newsom’s 35%. If all that’s true – and it’s hard to believe IGS could have been so wrong – Villaraigosa has done a pathetic job of consolidating his base.

Moreover, in an age when most pollsters see education as an increasingly important demographic, Tony V’s got just 12% of those with at least a college education, compared to Newsom with 39% of college-or-more voters and Cox with 18%.

If IGS is correct, 13% of the Latino likely voters remain undecided about the governor’s race, compared to just 8% of voters overall.

It does seem odd that 39% of the IGS total sample of likely voters had incomes of $100,000 or more and that 33% of their weighted sample of likely voters have incomes that high. But Latinos represented 22% of all likely voters in the IGS sample and about 19% of the likely voters after weighting – which still may in fact be high.

So, while Newsom kept his numbers up and steadily increased support among Democrats, and while Cox – with an endorsement from Donald Trump and exposure from Gavin Newsom’s it’s-all-about-me cynical advertising – consolidated support among Republicans, and while Democratic state Treasurer John Chiang continued to snap at Villaraigosa and Newsom, Tony V has gone nowhere – at least in the polls.

If it weren’t a top-two primary, it would be Newsom and Cox. It is a top-two primary, and the combination of forces – including Villaraigosa’s apparent inability to crush the opposition in his home base – mean we’ll likely have a governor’s race runoff between a Democrat and a Republican.

Which – despite spinning to the contrary from Newsom – will be good for Republicans (who will have a top-of-the-ticket candidate) in marginal districts and bad for Democrats who hope to take back the U.S. House of Representatives.

Why Steyer is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong on Impeachment

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

steyerTom Steyer, the billionaire entrepreneur and Democratic activist, is right that the only way to get rid of President Donald Trump is to impeach him. But Steyer is dead wrong – and his millions invested in his impeachment petition compound the problem – that now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their country.

“The Founders gave us impeachment to answer a reckless, lawless, and dangerous president and every day that his behavior is accepted, every day that you don’t oppose it, it becomes enshrined as the way things are done. You have normalized this presidency, you have normalized his behavior,” Steyer told Politico recently.

True. But accepting Trump and failing to oppose him are not the same as providing aid and comfort to those who would perpetuate his presidency. And that’s what’s wrong with Steyer’s impeachment drive. It’s strategically self-defeating.

trumpfingerIs Steyer Secretly Working for Trump? No matter how many signatures he gathers, no matter how many people feel validated by signing his petition, until Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, and hopefully the Senate as well, Trump will not be forcibly removed from office.

So before Steyer’s call for impeachment can even be considered, Democrats must take back the House. Which is why Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi is right to warn that “impeachment is not a policy agenda.”

Democrats have shown in campaigns for Doug Jones in Alabama and Connor Lamb in Pennsylvania that the ticket to winning in regions where Trump voters represent a sizable portion of the electorate is to concentrate on issues that people care about: the economy, jobs, education, public safety, national security and – to some extent – corruption in government.

Use those Millions Wisely Calling for impeachment of Donald Trump is not a winning campaign issue for Democrats. Which is exactly why Trump is out there warning his supporters that unless they elect or re-elect Republicans to Congress, the Democrats will impeach him. It’s Trump’s best argument right now.

“We have to keep the House because if we listen to [U.S. Rep.] Maxine Waters, she’s going around saying ‘We will impeach him!’ ‘We will impeach him’,” Trump told a rally in Michigan recently. “Then people said, ‘He hasn’t done anything wrong,’… Oh, that doesn’t matter, we will impeach the president’.”

Steyer ought to pull the plug on supporting the very cause his nemesis prefers as a campaign issue and re-deploy those millions of dollars to elect Democrats to the House.

Cutting Through Fog of Polls: The Key Takeaways

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

tonyvcoxAt a time when polling in California is more muddled and uncertain than ever, there’s only one important known unknown in campaigns for statewide office following the two most recent public surveys: Who will come in second in the governor’s race in the prelim June 5 election?

Under California’s top-two system, it seems certain that Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former Mayor of San Francisco will be the top vote-getter. The question is whether he’ll face off against Democratic former L.A. Mayor and California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa or recently Trump-endorsed Republican John Cox, a businessman from Rancho Santa Fe who spent most of his political life unsuccessfully seeking various offices in his home state of Illinois.

Latest Numbers. In the most recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, the race stood with Newsom 25%, Cox 19% and Villaraigosa 15%. But in the latest survey from USC and the L.A. Times, it was Newsom 21%, Villaraigosa 11% and Cox. 10%. (While Newsom’s percentage has slipped, he’s still far ahead of any other individual contender.)

Confused? You should be. Ever since the collapse of the California Field Poll and the decision by USC-LAT and Berkeley-IGS to use online polling, and with PPIC still using random digit dialing (and not voter lists or replicating the whole ballot), polling has been all over the map.

WTF??? Moreover, target TV and internet advertising in the June preliminary race – where the top two finishers make it to November regardless of party – has become a nasty inter- and intra-party free-fire zone that is guaranteed — not to mention designed — to confuse, mislead and befuddle voters:

Confusion PortraitNewsom is attacking Treasurer John Chiang over competence in an apparent bid to disqualify him and pick up Chiang voters for whom he is the second choice (ranked choice voting comes to the jungle primary!); Newsom and his labor sponsors are also attacking Cox as creature of the NRA in a bid to build up Cox with Trump voters so he finishes ahead of Villaraigosa; Chiang is falsely attacking Villaraigosa over un-analyzed rape kits in L.A. in bid to leap past him; Villaraigosa is attacking Newsom in his Tale of Two Cities ad; and an independent expenditure committee for Villaraigosa is building up a GOP goat farmer to take votes from Cox (calling him a “Democratic activist”) and in other ads suggesting (but not outright saying) that President Obama has endorsed Tony V; former Supe of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, is hitting everyone, using images of others saying they agree with her, in bid to do…something, we’re not sure.

Got that? No wonder the USC-LA Times poll had 39% of its voters – 4 in 10! — still undecided about the governor’s race. Which was itself a further sign of how screwed-up polling is in California right now, given that PPIC had just 15% undecided and the last IGS poll had undecided at 16%.

latinovotersLatino Turnout is Pivotal. One thing that clearly is making polling harder is that Villaraigosa is depending on a big turnout from Latino voters to propel him into second place. But according to the USC-LAT poll he’s pulling just 23% of likely Latino voters – which would be pretty pathetic.

Over in the PPIC survey, Villaraigosa’s got 39% of Latino likely voters, considerably better. But in PPIC’s survey, Latino likely voters comprise 36% of all Latinos in the survey while white likely voters comprise 69% of whites in the survey. In other words, if PPIC is right (similar to a finding by IGS), Latinos are far less likely to participate in the June election than their numbers would dictate. That’s the central challenge for Tony V.

The independent expenditure committee that’s promoting Villaraigosa – funded by charter school advocates who prefer his position to Newsom’s deferential alliance with the California Teachers Association – is aware of the need to boost Latino turnout. Which is why they’re investing heavily (and perhaps out of sight of most mainstream media) in Spanish-language TV, digital and mail. “We’re making a multi-million-dollar Spanish-language effort a major part of this campaign,” Roger Salazar, an IE consultant, told Calbuzz. “Unfortunately a lot of Spanish language falls under the radar of the public and the media.”

As an aside: The pro-Tony V IE’s private polling shows the race with Newsom at 26%, Cox at 17% and Tony V at 15% (very close to PPIC’s result), but with Villaraigosa gaining in key voting blocs.

feinsteinglassesOh Yeah, the Senate Race. Meanwhile, PPIC reported in the race for U.S. Senate “Feinstein holds a commanding lead against fellow Democrat Kevin de León (41% to 17%) among likely voters, with 36 percent undecided. Among Democrats, a solid majority (65%) support Feinstein, while most Republicans (59%) and independents (47%) are undecided.”

And the LA Times reported its “poll also found Californians who have made up their minds on voting overwhelmingly support Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s reelection bid. Feinstein was favored by 31% of likely voters while her top rival in the race, former state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), was backed by 7%.”

In the USC-LAT poll, 41% were undecided on the Senate race.

calbuzzartThe Calbuzz betting line:

1 –  Feinstein crushes De Leon who limps on to November (unless the Nazi surges).

2 – Newsom comes in first to succeed Jerry Brown, who sadly must step down.

3 – Either Cox or Villaraigosa makes it to November.

If it’s Cox, say hello to Gov. Newsom; in the bigger picture –  those crucial California House races will be substantially tougher for Democrats because Republicans will have a candidate on the ballot. If it’s Tony V, it’s a genuine contest and the Democratic House races look a lot stronger because of big Dem/low Reep turnout.

Bottom line. In other words, if you’re hoping to flip California House seats to help Congress stand up to Trump, you want Gavin vs Tony V in November.