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Why Some Women Candidates Just Aren’t Feminists

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

By Susan Rose
Special to Calbuzz

Gender balance in public office is a long-sought goal of the women’s movement.  What is politically crucial for feminists, however, is not simply electing equal numbers of women and men to office, but electing women and men who will further a feminist agenda.

While the mainstream media spew coverage about the success of Republican women candidates in last week’s primaries — including Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in California, Nikki Haley in South Carolina and Sharron Angle in Nevada — the plain fact is that there was an utter lack of focus on feminist issues in these races.

Despite rhetorical declarations about “mama grizzly” feminism by Sarah Palin, none of these women has actively worked for women’s rights or advocated for social and political equality of the sexes.  They are not your mother’s feminists, nor your grandmother’s suffragists; they are conservative Republicans following the party line.

The California Republican party’s nomination of Whitman for governor and Fiorina for Senate, the first time the state GOP has ever selected a woman for either office, is historic, to be sure. But will they be voices for women in the general election?

It is instructive to note that the day after their victories, Whitman and Fiorina posed  together in a politically crafted tableau, captured in the June 10th LA Times front page photo of the two “united in victory.” The image seemed clearly intended to recall the energy and enthusiasm of 1992’s “Year of the Woman,” when Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein made history as the state’s first female U.S. Senators.

But a review of the platforms of Whitman and Fiorina, as presented on their web sites, shows no policy statements specific to women’s issues or language aimed at reaching out to women: Where do they stand on childcare, violence against women, economic justice, sex and race discrimination, to name a few of the social and political concerns of women?  As a billionaire and a multi-millionaire, respectively, how much do they care about such issues, or are they even aware of them? Apparently not, from the evidence to date.

On the threshold feminist issue of reproductive rights, Whitman declares herself pro-choice but with so many qualifiers that Planned Parenthood’s California political action committee opposes her candidacy.  In “The Truth About Meg Whitman,” PPAC notes that she does not support a minor’s right to access abortion services nor funding for family planning services.

Fiorina is adamant in her opposition to abortion rights and defines herself as pro-life.  She is endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee and the California Pro-Life Council.  [Editor's note: Calbuzz has already called attention to Fiorina's statement cited in the New Yorker:  “I absolutely would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade if the opportunity presented itself.” ]

With three of the four top candidates in the general election being women, will we see a gender focus in the general election? How much will the women’s vote count in November? And who will win it?

Attorney General Jerry Brown and Senator Barbara Boxer, two longtime Democratic elected officeholders, both have long histories in California of supporting progressive issues and feminist goals.  Each has a legislative track record.  Boxer has been a passionate voice for pro-choice issues and Brown has a strong record of including women and minorities in his administrations.

They will be challenged by two female wealthy former CEOs with corporate experience, huge resources and no record of commitment to issues affecting women. Can these GOP women convince women voters they will do a better job in Sacramento and Washington?

In the world according to Sarah Palin, feminism can be defined by a working mother who is running for office.  But these female candidates are not feminist advocates. Their platforms reflect no commitment to the advancement of women.

Gender balance is about having a voice inside the halls of government.  If Whitman and Fiorina should win, they will not make women’s issues a priority.  It will be a big loss for women and years before we can regain those voices.

Once again California will be a test case for the nation.

Susan Rose is a former Santa Barbara County Supervisor and served as Executive Director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women.  She was a founding member of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, an organization dedicated to helping women achieve elected and appointive office.

*An earlier version of this post included a summary of Susan Rose’s bio that included an  out-of-date description of her connection to California Women Lead.

Why Killing AB32 is a Long Shot and Other Bad Bets

Monday, March 29th, 2010

We happen to have in our hot little Calbuzz claws some summary results from a February poll by FM3 (Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz) for the defenders of AB32 that found that after voters are read the Attorney General’s title and summary for the measure to repeal AB32 they oppose it 46-37%.

According to the survey — 600 likely November voters, +/- 4% — opposition grows when voters realize oil companies are behind the drive to overturn AB32. Which won’t be hard to argue because it’s TRUE, as the Sac B Minus and others have noted. In fact, says Steve Maviglio, who’s hacking and flacking for the save AB32 forces, more than 72% of the money behind the effort to overturn AB32 has come from — Michael Huffington drum roll please — Texas oil companies you just can’t trust.

Another reason to like the opposition on this one: since the creation of initiatives in California, “no” has beaten “yes” two-thirds of the time. The only other polling we’ve seen was back in July, when PPIC asked whether people support the state law reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Support for what is a description of AB32: 66% favor, 23% opposed.

We’re not sure what the effect will be of having Gov. Schwarzenegger — who has long been a defender of AB32 — suddenly skim back his support by calling for a “more carefully phased approach” in implementing the law. But as we get deeper and deeper into the campaign season, Gov. Schwarzmuscle becomes increasingly less significant. And we expect Crusty the General Brown to hammer on the climate-change issue relentlessly — in part because the environment is an issue that resonates with moderate, non-partisan voters who will ultimately decide the election.

Dumb and dumber: One of the dumbest, and most common, mistakes committed by political writers the world over (even Calbuzz may have succumbed once or twice) is to assume that the future will look like the present.

As Walter Shapiro notes, arguing persuasively in Politics Daily against over-interpreting the impact of health care reform on the mid-term election, the issues that are hot at the end of a campaign are seldom those that pundits focus on in spring or summer:

Cable TV news and hyperdrive Internet publications like the Politico tend to divine major political implications from everything, with the possible exception of Starbucks introducing a soymilk Frappuccino. The institutional bias that governs this type of political coverage is to overreact to the here and now. The working assumption is that the future will be just like the present except for the addition of a few random fluctuations to enhance the story line.

The Shapiro Thesis is, of course, the operating assumption underlying the apparent equanimity of Steve Poizner’s handlers in the face of eMeg’s 8,000 point lead in the Republican primary, and of Jerry Brown’s Zen-like shrugs at the sight of Whitman surging past him in the polls, on the strength of her all-eMeg-all-the-time TV offensive.

While Her Megness so far has had the luxury of framing and defining the election on her terms, should she turn out to be the Republican nominee for governor, things are likely to look very different down the road a piece.

Here’s a look at three low-radar factors that may mushroom into major matters in Whitman’s November match-up with Jerry Brown, or even the final weeks of Poizner’s uphill struggle against Ms. Head and Shoulders Potato Head:

The CEO factor – For now, eMeg keeps gaining traction for her core message that executive business experience is just about the perfect fit for what ails the government of California. But as we’ve noted repeatedly from the first weeks of the campaign, running a business has almost exactly nothing to do with managing the day to day political cross currents and rip tides of Sacramento, a point that is well amplified in a must-read piece by Newsweek’s Andrew Romano and Michael Hirsh:

Very little that happens inside a corporate suite is like governing a state or a country. CEOs, like generals, can issue orders and expect them to be carried out. Jobs and budgets can be pared by fiat, with little public controversy. It’s not nearly as simple for governors or senators—even presidents. Their authority is never absolute. They are constrained by the separation of powers and forced to ride the tiger of public opinion; they must persuade, cajole, and arm-twist to get their way.

As Harry Truman once said about his presidential successor, Dwight Eisenhower: “He’ll sit there all day saying do this, do that, and nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the Army.” Beyond that, there’s rarely been a time in American industry when CEOs have been so discredited. The last “CEO presidency”—George W. Bush’s—ended up in a ditch. The CEOs of Wall Street have provoked outrage by awarding themselves record bonuses during the worst recession in decades—a recession they mainly caused.

The Goldman Sachs scandal – eMeg’s past shady, and legally questionable, dealings with the world’s largest greed head investment firm is the case study
that precisely makes the point about the dangers of CEOs grabbing the levers of government power, which is one major source of the seething resentment of voters across the nation.

What kind of business relationship can Californians expect their state to have with Goldman Sachs and firms like it if Meg Whitman becomes governor? Here’s a clue: In a report called “Corporate cash boosts Whitman,” the Associated Press reported that “The biggest donations came from New York investment bankers, hedge fund managers, attorneys and others.” If there’s one thing these guys know it’s how to prime the pump.

Not that Whitman’s old pals at Goldman haven’t already been profiting off California’s misery. They were hired to manage some multibillion dollar state bond offerings but, as reported in the Los Angeles Times, millions in fees didn’t stop Goldman from secretly undermining California’s credit rating. That hurt the very sales they were hired to manage. As the Times states, the firm “urged some of its big clients to place investment bets against California bonds” by “proposing a way for … clients to profit from California’s deepening financial misery.”

Ideology – The unintended consequence of Poizner running so hard to the right in the primary is that, for the moment at least, Whitman often appears to be a moderate Republican and, thus, a more attractive and more formidable candidate for the general election race against Brown.

But Press Corps Elders George Skelton and Peter Schrag have dug into eMeg’s much-trumpeted 48-page policy agenda (which the nit-picking Dan Morain estimates actually to be only about 20 pages, after subtracting the page presentation gee-gaws and glam shots of Herself) and concluded that any moderation perceived in eMeg’s views is mostly accidental, a perspective Brown has already seized on in his recent populist pronouncements.

Meg Whitman’s Republican rival calls her a liberal. He’s not even close. Political writers often describe her as moderate. That misses the mark too.

Supporting abortion rights — even state funding of abortions for the poor — doesn’t automatically make her a moderate. Not when she’s prepared to whack benefits for welfare moms — slash almost any program — to avoid raising taxes.

She opposes same-sex marriage but supports recognizing those unions allowed before Proposition 8 passed. That doesn’t make her a moderate either. Not when she insists on eliminating 40,000 state jobs.

Calbuzz bottom line: It’s usually a mistake to confuse rookie phenoms of spring training with the veteran ballplayers who usually make the big plays in the World Series.

Fuck you, you fucking fuck: Kudos to Carl Cannon for putting into clear historic context Joe Biden’s healthy cussing kudo to the President moments before Obama signed the health care reform legislation, a usage much panned by the prudes and prisses of the internets and cable TV. As Cannon notes the f-bomb has a proud and rich history in American politics, not least as used by his own father, the renowned Lou Cannon, upon beholding the beauty of a Sandy Koufax perfect game.

IE Spanks eMeg’s Money; Commish Goes NASCAR

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Ka-ching, baby: The 30-second radio ad “1-800 Number” from “Level the Playing Field 2010,” the pro-Jerry Brown independent expenditure committee, was just the warm up: today the committee kicks off a $250,000/month radio buy for “Kaaa-ching!” – a 60-second radio spot attacking Meg Whitman for lavish corporate pay and perks when she ran eBay.

The kicker: “There shouldn’t be a Buy It Now button on the California governor’s office.” Ka-ching, ka-boom. Level 2010 plans to unveil the ad at their San Francisco office this morning, followed by a preview for the reporters in Sacramento.

“I don’t think anyone can crown themselves governor. I don’t think you can buy elections,” Whitman told KCBS reporter Doug Sovern. “What I’m trying to do is get my message out to voters. And voters are really smart. They will figure out who they want to lead this state. They will decide who they think is the most capable, given the current set of economic challenges that we face.”

In addition to the 19,00086,000-member California Nurses Association, initial funders for Level 2010 include the 23,000-member California Faculty Association. Strategists include Ace Smith, Chris Lehane, Sean Clegg, Dan Newman and Paul Maslin. Also Jason Kinney, Mike Rice, Doug Linney, Theo Yadinsky and Michelle Maravich.

The ad is an opening attack on the surreal prospect that anyone should be seeking high office using their CEOness as a qualifying characteristic — after  the collapse of Wall Street and America’s banking system at the hands of corporate CEOs. Lehane, Smith, Maslin, Clegg, et al are determined to do what the Obama administration has failed to do: render radioactive any Republican candidate with a corporate background.

They also understand that the ubermission of an independent committee is to put the opponent/s on the defensive. An IE can’t win an election – only the candidate can do that. But an IE committee can weaken the opposition. And that’s Level 2010’s goal.

According to Tucker Bounds, eMeg’s spokesman, there’s little difference between Brown’s campaign and the independent expenditure committees dedicated to attacking Whitman.

The other IE committee – California Working Families 2010 – includes Roger Salazar, Larry Grizalano, Jason Kruger and Frank Quintero, with funding likely to come from Ron Burkle, the carpenters and electrical workers unions and others. They have yet to mount a charge.

“There’s only one viable candidate in this campaign that’s running for election. Jerry Brown has refused to get on the playing field. But he has deployed his attack-style consultants to launch a campaign against Meg Whitman and we’re committeed to fighting back,” he said.

Asked if he was saying there is collusion between Brown and the independent committees – which would be illegal – Bounds demurred: “I’m not making any charge other than to say these are Jerry Brown supporters who are running a campaign to support Jerry Brown – they’re all singing from the same songbook.”

The ads, he said, “are an example of the general election beginning early in part because the Democrats would prefer to run against a weaker, beatable candidate in Steve Poizner.” . . . which leads to . . .

And they’re off: Steve Poizner will hit the track at NASCAR this weekend – even as Whitman accelerates her effort to bump him out of the race for governor. (Okay, that’s it for auto-racing puns for this item. Intentional ones anyway).

Team Poizner confirmed Tuesday that the Commish is slated as an Honorary Visiting Official at Sunday’s NASCAR Auto Club 500 race in Fontana. That means he gets profile in the pre-race ceremonies, possibly a seat in the pace car (careful what you wish for!), plus face time at the driver’s meeting and in the garage, along with primo seats.

We’re sure that it’s the sheerest of coincidences that Poizner is making a NASCAR appearance just a week after Calbuzz recommended he do so. In any case, the Thunder Road optics of the event will contrast nicely with eMeg’s more refined, Ile de France and amusing little Montrachets vibe. Poizner peering under the hood in San Berdoo surely resonates better with blue collar, cultural conservatives than Whitman’s bubble-wrapped cocooning and hobnobbing with political and media elites in Washington and New York.

As John Kerry famously said, “Who among us does not love NASCAR?”

Let’s call off the election: Still, one NASCAR event does not a campaign make, and the Armies of eMeg are keeping the pressure on Poizner to head for the pits even the starters flag comes down (sorry).

Ex-Gov. Pete Wilson, Whitman’s campaign chairman, last week sent out a missive calling for Poizner to withdraw in the interest of Republican “unity” in the face of Crusty’s IE effort; to which Jim Brulte, Stevie Wonder’s chairman, has now nicely riposted that Meg is trying “to win for free what others like Ronald Reagan and George Deukmejian have had to compete hard to earn.”

Undeterred, Her Megness quickly followed up with Wilson’s echo-not-a-choice message with yet another, this from Republican legislative leaders Senator Tony Strickland and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who parroted PiWi’s eblast line.

Our party is only weakened by a Republican candidate who ultimately aids Jerry Brown and his allies’ fight against the conservative leadership we need in Sacramento. It’s time for all Republicans to unite, and we’re hopeful Steve Poizner will do the right thing and step aside in order to nominate Meg, the strongest candidate to take on Jerry Brown in November.

To which Commish mouthpiece Jarrod Agen oh-so-daintily responded:

I’ve read about dictators who try to stop free elections, but I never thought I’d see someone try that strategy in California. Steve Poizner favors freedoms that make America great, like freedom of the press and the right to vote, so we’re going to go ahead and have an election where the voters get to choose their nominee.

Let’s call off the whining, instead: From where we sit, Whitman’s big push to push Poizner over the side, nearly four months before the primary, and at a time when she’s leading by 8,000 points, looks like an extremely weak, fear-based move that makes her sound like a whiner. What’s next, if The Commish doesn’t drop – shaking her fist and stamping her foot? Holding her breath ‘til she turns blue? Or maybe just cut to the chase and try directly begging him to quit. Sheesh.

eMeg’s ongoing insistence that she’s “going to debate” – while she keeps not debating – meanwhile keeps sending the same lame message.

Which reminds us that our pal Jon Fleischman, the esteemed blogger and widely known shit disturber, is having entirely too much fun over at Flashreport, making the GOP natives restless by fomenting a netroots push for a debate at the upcoming Republican convention.

Hiding behind technicalities, Whitman communications chief Bounds told us “no invitation was extended” for a convention debate, adding that, “if there’s an invitation, we’ll give it due consideration.”

And thank you for that.