Archive for the ‘California Supreme Court’ Category

What It All Means: First Fight to Frame the Election

Monday, April 27th, 2009

gavin22Bottom line on the California Democratic Party convention: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made the biggest splash and showed off a slick campaign operation but Attorney General Jerry Brown proved anew that, even without a campaign apparatus, his political presence remains commanding.

Newsom’s well-delivered speech, ubiquitous team of volunteers, flashy street party and fireside chat for bloggers signaled to potential donors, activists and cognoscenti that his nascent campaign for governor is for real.

But his effort to frame the 2010 Democratic primary as a generational battle of future versus past – casting Brown as a “stroll down memory lane” – was far from convincing. Portraying Brown as the political status quo is like trying to paint Mick Jagger as musically obsolete.

For starters, Brown is still the smartest guy in the room, and trying to outflank him as the avatar of ideas, new or old, will be a tough sell among those who tend to vote in Democratic primaries.

While Newsom (a Hillary supporter, BTW) spent the weekend trying to position himself as Obama to Brown’s Clinton, General Jerry delivered a Jim Hightower-like jeremiad to the convention, filled with rips and roars at financial insiders and white collar criminals. In tone and substance it seemed closer to tapping the populist zeitgeist of these financially troubled times than did Newsom’s effort to fight the last war.

Voters fed up with Governor Arnold’s shattered promises to “blow up boxes” and sweep clean the mess in Sacramento may well be in the mood for less “change” and more common sense, which happens to be Brown’s political meme du jour.

Still, Brown was exposed, once again, as deficient in the organizational department. While Newsom already has a smooth, if expensive, functioning campaign machine, Brown HQ is still the Jerry & Anne Show, with the extraordinary energy and smarts of his wife providing what passes for his campaign structure.

In preparing to speak to the delegates, Newsom rehearsed his carefully crafted speech on a teleprompter. There was an actual text. Brown showed up with no text, no talking points, and having had no pre-game discussion with advisers about narratives or theme.

For us the most telling moment of the weekend came as we talked with Brown in the driveway of the old governor’s mansion in the cool, camellia-scented air of early Saturday evening. Surrounded by supporters, he was upbeat and feeling good about his speech, so good that he asked Calbuzz if we had a transcript, or at least a tape, of his convention address that he could borrow. (Note to Jerry: talk to John Burton – the party records these things).

Polls show Brown begins the race with a solid base of one-third of the Democratic vote, so he has plenty of time to assemble a campaign operation. But running for governor in 2010 will not be like he remembers it from 1974. Whether Brown will have the discipline and mindfulness to hire professionals and actually listen to them remains uncertain.

Newsom meanwhile has some stylistic problems of his own. He’s perilously close to turning his Twitter/Facebook/You Tube campaign into a kind of cyber-narcissism where the motto seems to be “Yes I Can.”

In his zeal to frame the race as future versus past he also runs the risk of sounding like he’s rallying the young to dump senior citizens on ice floes, in a primary where older voters vastly outnumber younger ones. During a Saturday meeting with bloggers, he started to walk back from that position when he said, “It’s not about young versus old. It’s about whether we’re going to move forward in a new direction or whether we’re going to look back. It’s not about attacking people. It’s about attacking the status quo.”

For Newsom, the weekend was as much a branding exercise as a campaign event. Because he’s still largely an unknown, and trails Brown 2-to-1, he did exactly what he needed to do by putting a strong personal stamp on the convention. At this point, the one thing most people know about him is the endlessly replayed “whether they like it or not” Mr. Smarty Pants moment, when he did an arrogant little touchdown dance in celebrating the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision.

At least twice at the convention, we heard him try to re-brand the phrase. “Whether they like it or not – my name’s Gavin Newsom, and I’m here to get things started,” he said in his speech opening. Calbuzz thinks he may be better off just letting it go lest the repetitions become a repeating reel in a future negative TV spot.

Still, whatever Newsom did or didn’t accomplish, it was a helluva’ lot better than what Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa did, namely reprise Billy Bob Thornton’s role in “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” No political professionals we talked to at the convention buy his consultant’s spin: he enjoys the luxury of waiting until late July to launch because the electorate will be 35 percent Latino, and he’ll win 90 percent of that.

Tony V’s mouthpiece did get off a good shot at Newsom – who has his own gnarly $438 million budget deficit in San Francisco – the day before the convention, sniping that his boss would not “Twitter while Rome burns.” But one line does not a campaign presence make. For Villaraigosa, the bottom line is that the convention was a flat-out missed opportunity, to recruit and fire up some troops, and to show he’s got the stuff of a governor in him.

In case you didn’t hear: In a major slap at their own legislative leaders, Democratic delegates on Sunday refused to endorse three of the six ballot measures on the May 19 special election ballot. The rejection of Prop. 1A from the left, when it’s already under attack from the Republican right-wing, does not portend well for the centerpiece of the Schwarzenegger-Democrat budget deal.

Jerry Brown: After Prop. 8 Decision, What’s Next on Gay Marriage?

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

We listened in on a conference call with Attorney General Jerry Brown Monday night about what’s next after Proposition 8. It was hosted by Courage Campaign, an online organizing hub for progressive Californians that claims a network of 700,000 people.

Brown did an adequate job of explaining his position that the right of any two people to marry is a “fundamental core liberty” that shouldn’t be able to be “swept away” by a simple majority of voters. But we thought it was weird to hear Brown say that the presentation against the anti-gay marriage amendment made by his own AG staff before the California Supreme Court wasn’t all that he thought it should have been. It was, after all, HIS staff.

We didn’t get a chance to ask Brown whether, as governor, he would lead a drive for a ballot measure to guarantee that marriage between two consenting adults is a fundamental core liberty in the California Constitution, if the state Supreme Court upholds Prop. 8. (How about it Jerry — would you?) He was a bit cagey about what the next steps ought to be for gay-marriage proponents, suggesting that repealing Prop. 8 might be more feasible than approving an affirmative measure.

He said a constitutional convention would be “hard to pull off” because the Legislature would have a crucial role. He warned against protests, suggesting rallies and celebrations, instead – so as not to stir up further antagonisms. And he said it would be a “sad day if this court abandons its pioneering role in protecting fundamental rights” although he’s not giving up on California’s supremes just yet.

We’re not sure if Brown is positioned to capture the majority of gay voters in a Democratic primary (since San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has something of a corner on the market). But he has aligned the Office of the Attorney General of California with gay rights. And that’s not insignificant.

Jerry Brown’s Double Bind in Running for Governor

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

We’ve been through this movie before: candidate with superior experience runs for high office arguing that he or she has what it takes to manage the government from day one.

This was Hillary Clinton’s strategic mistake. While Barack Obama was campaigning as the candidate of change, Clinton kept saying she had the experience. But Clinton’s message made the very case that Obama wanted voters to take away: She represented the past, the status quo, while he represented the future.

This is Jerry Brown’s challenge, too. He was always ahead of the curve. They called him “Gov. Moonbeam” because he proposed that California should have its own communications satellite — not so far out in hindsight, was it?

But he was ahead of the curve when huge numbers of today’s voters weren’t yet born. The more he emphasizes his experience, the more he looks and sounds like a flash from the past.

Or as Garry South, Gavin Newsom’s consultant, puts it indelicately: “The more he babbles on about how cutting edge he was in the ’70s, the more he makes himself a relic.”

We’re not sure anyone can make Brown look old school. He’s the most adaptive, chamelon-like changeling California has ever witnessed. Paddle on the left, paddle on the right. Oppose Prop. 13, support it with all your heart. Oppose Prop. 8, vow to enforce it, argue against it in the Supreme Court.

But he’s in a political double bind and arguing about all the wonderful things he did three decades ago won’t make him the next big thing.