Posts Tagged ‘Democracy for America’



Budget War Looms; Why Backers Matter in CD36

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Racking up a big fat collection of political endorsements in an election doesn’t always mean much. But when it’s a low-information, low-turnout contest, where voters are looking for cues, endorsements can have a huge impact.

Which is why Democrats Janice Hahn and Debra Bowen have been scrambling like mad to snag as many as they can in the May 17 special election to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Jane Harman in California’s 36th Congressional District.

Thus far, in the race for endorsements, Hahn, the LA City Councilwoman, is beating the pants off Bowen, the California Secretary of State.

There are, of course, other candidates in this contest including Democrat Marcy Winograd, the progressive left contender, and some Republicans, like Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin, Redondo Beach City Attorney Mike Webb, Realty Alert publisher Craig Huey and several others. Here’s the list of candidates and party preferences. In all there are five Democrat, six Republican, five “no party preference,” one Libertarian and one Peace and Freedom candidates.

But the real action – given the district’s partisan cast — is to see who’s gonna be the top Democrat.

The new rule under Proposition 14 is that the top two vote getters in the “primary,” regardless of party, face each other in the general election. But this is a special election and the rules allow that there’s only a runoff election between the top two contenders if no one gets 50%+1 in the initial balloting. And given the large field, it’s likely there will be a runoff on July 12. Whether that’ will be between two Democrats or a Democrat and a Republican depends on how the votes split on May 17.

All of which explains the frantic effort to win endorsements that tell voters who is allied with whose interests.

Bowen has won endorsements from the likes of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Democracy for America (run by Dean’s brother), the Beach Cities Democratic Club and the California Nurses Association. Click here for Bowen’s endorsements.

But Hahn has U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa,  Assembly Speaker John Perez, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the LA Police Protective League and unions representing firefighters, longshoremen, electrical workers, letter carriers, laborers, steelworkers, plumbers, communication workers, steamfitters, operating engineers, iron workers, yada yada yada. Plus eight members of Congress, the LA Sheriff…the list goes on and on and on. Here are Hahn’s endorsements.

With her name ID as a statewide elected official and considerable popularity among Democrats in the region, Bowen is by no means a dead duck. But . . .

“That’s a huge, huge tell,” Nate Monroe, assistant professor of political science and an expert in congressional elections at UC Merced, said after hearing the endorsement lists. Not only does the list suggest the range of interests who think one candidate is better than the other, but “they raise the probability that a given voter is going to have a common interest with a given endorsement,” he said.

Bruce Cain, UC Berkeley’s Heller Professor of Political Science and public policy director of the University of California Washington Center, agreed that simply knowing that Dianne Feinstein is on one side and Howard Dean is on the other may be enough for many voters.

“You get into these low-information, low-turnout elections and there’s no question that endorsements matter,” Cain said, in part because voters who do turn out will be more highly informed than the average voter and they will know who the people and institutions are who are lining up behind different candidates.

Hahn’s endorsements, he said, may or may not tell you about her ideology, but they tell you about her strategy: “She’s got a more centrist base.”

Time to Revisit the Calbuzz Plan: “War cannot be avoided,” Niccolo Machiavelli, one of our all-time favorite political writers, famously said. “It can only be postponed to the other’s advantage.”

Old Nick’s sage advice to the Prince came to mind when we heard on Tuesday that Gov. Jerry Brown had finally thrown in the towel on “negotiations” with legislative Republicans in an attempt to win a handful of votes to put tax extensions on the June ballot.

“Each and every Republican legislator I’ve spoken to believes that voters should not have this right to vote unless I agree to an ever changing list of collateral demands,” Brown said.

“Let me be clear: I support pension reform, regulatory reform and a spending cap and offered specific and detailed proposals for each of these during our discussions.  While we made significant progress on these reform issues, the Republicans continued to insist on including demands that would materially undermine any semblance of a balanced budget.  In fact, they sought to worsen the state’s problem by creating a $4 billion hole in the budget.”

In addition to a written statement, Brown released a You Tube video of himself, dressed in a sweater, explaining his reasoning.

“The fact that the governor has now pulled the plug on any further budget talks says only one thing — the only immovable object in Sacramento is Jerry Brown,” replied California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro.

Brown’s extended efforts to use sweet reason to cut a budget deal, while laudable, were starting to make him look silly and weak anyway. The idea that legislative Republicans would ever negotiate seriously over a reality-based solution to California’s $27 billion deficit was probably always an illusion, but it was worth burning some political capital for Brown to at least try to treat them like adults.

But GOP leaders, with their puerile, 11th-hour, 53-point plan for undoing the 2010 election, made it clear that the whole notion that they were interested in helping to govern was a charade all along.

With a June ballot measure — if one could be pushed through by majority vote — apparently now out of the question, Brown and the Democrats are left with basically one option: a November ballot measure which should, as we’ve argued, re-frame the debate. Now that Machiavelli says it’s clearly time to go to war, Brown ought to make it one worth fighting, by battling on behalf of something like the Calbuzz Outside-the Box-Thinking Plan for Fiscal Integrity, Nuclear Safety and Peace in Our Time.

Here’s how it would work: Set things up so that the Democrats  approve, with a majority vote, a conditional all-cuts budget that presumes no tax extensions. (We wonder if Republicans would vote for it.) Then gather signatures to place that on the November ballot, with a provision that if the measure fails the cuts will not occur because the 2009 taxes and fees will be re-instated for five years. As a practical matter, cuts can be delayed to occur after November. And costs can be shifted to local government for local responsibilities whether the measure wins or loses.

Then let Grover Norquist, Jon Fleischman, radio heads John and Ken and the rest of their not-our-problem cadre be forced to argue for the budget ballot measure while Democrats and labor argue against it.

In other words, make the “yes” position a vote for cutting programs for widows, orphans, fish and fawn and the “no” position a vote for freedom, justice and common decency on our streets and in our homes. Recall: in the history of ballot propositions in California, “no” beats “yes” 67% of the time.

As Peter Schrag shrewdly opined this week, Brown let himself get perilously close to being played for as big a fool by the GOP as did Barack Obama.  Three days after his inauguration, Obama memorably told GOP congressional leaders at the White House that “Elections have consequences and, at the end of the day, I won.”

Then he went out and acted like he’d lost.

Obama’s hideous political blunder was to allow himself to be strung along by bad faith for nearly a year in hopes of getting a bipartisan health care reform bill. All he got for his trouble was months and months of bookend cable chatter about how ugly the sausage-making process was; at the end of the day, he finally rammed through a Democrats-only bill, which he could have done much earlier, with much less damage inflicted by the right-wing echo chamber framing machine to the perception the country had about what was actually in the legislation.

Brown — perhaps too much a believer in his own ability to charm and reason –behaved in much the same way.

Our Department of Second Guessing advises that had he moved early and decisively to use the Democrats’ big majorities in the Assembly and Senate to push a tax-extension measure onto the ballot instead of wasting months on no-negotiation negotiations, he now would be in a stronger position to advocate for the revenue proposal and frame the debate, having already pushed the Legislature to pass the painful budget cut portion of his plan.

Instead he’s got nothing to show for his efforts but the cuts, and a clown car full of Republicans who are only too happy to play Lucy-and-the-football with an ever expanding and evolving agenda of DOA demands.

“This is basically trying to ram through an agenda that does not reflect the fact that we have a Democratic governor, and Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature,” Gandalf flack Gil Duran said of the latest GOP move.

Well said and true enough, but we hasten to add that neither are the Democrats themselves acting like they’re a party that won a huge and sweeping statewide victory last November.

“One defends when his strength is inadequate,” as Sun Tzu, another of our old school fave political writers put it. “He attacks when it is abundant.”

Inquiring minds want to know: Perhaps the best measure of how unseriously California Republicans are taking their responsibility to help govern the state is the cowardly duck nearly all of them took on Brown’s bid to abolish redevelopment agencies in the state.

Lest some sensitive soul over at Flashreport start whining about biased Calbuzz sniping, we highly recommend having a read of Steven Greenhut’s excellent piece on the matter over at conservative Calwatchdog.com.

Redevelopment is about everything Republicans claim to loath: bureaucracy, debt, abuses of property rights, big government, excessive land-use rules, subsidized housing and fiscal irresponsibility. In California cities, redevelopment bureaucrats rule the roost and they leave a path of destruction wherever they go. They bully people and impose enormous burdens on taxpayers. The diversion of tax dollars to welfare queens mandates higher taxes, but the GOP sided with the redevelopment industry. They sided with agencies that run up hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-backed indebtedness. They sided with government-directed stimulus programs, albeit local ones rather than federal ones…

The truth is California Republicans do not believe in limited government. They do not stand up for property owners. They are the party of corporate welfare. They oppose higher taxes, but that’s the only guiding principle of the party these days. And even that is suspect. Many Assembly Republicans, such as the pro-union members of the “no more cuts” caucus (Jim Silva, Brian Nestande and Paul Cook), vote in a way that virtually mandates higher taxes at some point. Then they get on their high horse and sign those bogus tax-fighting pledges. And you wonder why the GOP is fading away in this state?


Chris Finnie: Missing the Point About the Grassroots

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

By Chris Finnie
Special to Calbuzz

Calbuzz recently highlighted a link to Talking Points Memo, headlined “Meg Whitman Copies Obama Playbook,” in which writer Christina Bellantoni argues that eMeg’s $150 million campaign for governor is effectively cloning the president’s 2008 operation.

Sorry boys, but Christina’s clueless.

Whitman may be trying to duplicate some of the tactics of Obama’s game plan – appealing to Latino voters in Spanish, targeting young professionals and spending a lot of money (none of it, notably, raised from the grassroots as Obama’s was).

But like so many other politicians before her, she is missing the essence of the matter: she doesn’t have an emotional connection to voters. And that makes all the difference

Where’s the passion?

Before Obama, the new Internet Age, from-the- ground-up campaign was pioneered by Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential race. Political pundits were agog at his online organizing and fundraising; suddenly every candidate wanted Meetup groups and web organizing tools.

But they were often disappointed with the results, because they mistook the map for the territory.

I volunteered with both the 2004 Dean campaign and the 2008 Obama campaign. In both, many of the volunteers felt passionate about the candidate and connected with the other volunteers we worked with. Both campaigns did a great job of fostering those connections. And they persist to this day.

The Obama campaign did a masterful job of using technology, not as an end in itself, but to harness and organize this grassroots fervor. When I worked phone banks in Boulder Creek, California, the communication from Chicago was always quick and seamless. And the personal acknowledgements to volunteers were frequent and effective.

California Rep. Maxine Waters, D-L.A., highlighted this point at the state Democratic convention in April. Speaking to grassroots activists at the annual “Red to Blue” fundraising dinner to support Democratic candidates in Republican strongholds in California, Waters said campaign strategy is too often all about money, specifically the money that campaign consultants make on media buys.

She said that as long as the primary way consultants make money is by buying media, candidates will be increasingly distant from voters, and office holders isolated from the people they represent.

Harkening back to the days of real town hall meetings, Waters spoke of the passion generated when candidates meet in storefronts with local volunteers who walk and phone for them – not as a staged media event, but as a central part of their campaigns.

What Whitman lacks

Meg Whitman may have as many paid staff members on her communications team as the Obama campaign fielded in all 50 states. But I doubt she’ll attract many people to sit in a neighbor’s living room and make phone calls to support her.

She will continue to burn through vast amounts of money on media buys but never achieve the grassroots support Obama was able to mobilize.

She will not have anyone like the woman in Florida who rented an office and recruited volunteers, then presented the whole thing to the Obama campaign when they finally made it to her state.

The Whitman campaign may boast of having volunteers, but they’re little more than a prop. The plain fact is that there is no space in her corporate-style marketing campaign for personal communication or authentic interactions with the candidate. Heck, she won’t even talk to the media. As Rep. Waters told us, this approach will increasingly isolate her from the people she needs to reach.

Whitman also will not gain that support because California voters simply don’t like her. Not even the Republicans, which the Field Poll numbers show clearly.

Sure, they’re willing to let her try to buy the election; the party is grateful that she’s spending her money, and not theirs. But she doesn’t have a message that grabs anybody and nearly all of what she’s proposing has been tried by Schwarzenegger and hasn’t worked.

Most importantly, she has no emotional connection to voters.

Unfortunately for us Democrats, Jerry Brown’s campaign has been nearly as lackadaisical in building grassroots support, and is just beginning to reach out to volunteers.

John Laird = Obama Playbook

As Brown begins to do this, he would be well advised to look to the effort of former Assemblyman John Laird, who’s running in the special election race for the coastal 15th state Senate district.

Laird has volunteers setting up phone banks for him on their own all over the state. Community groups that came together through Organizing for America groups are making calls, as are statewide volunteers from Democracy for America.

Groups all over the state are organizing themselves, or working as a group to support Laird’s bid, because they feel passionately about his progressive ideas and having him in the Senate to enact them.

Republican Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee may have more money, with millions from big oil and insurance companies, and a big assist from Whitman, but Laird has the sort of people-powered campaign every politician should hope for.

Chris Finnie sits on the Santa Cruz County Democratic Central Committee, serves as a delegate to the California Democratic Party, and is a member of the CDP Organizational Development Committee. She became a political activist in the Howard Dean campaign in 2004 and has since served on campaign staffs with Cegelis for Congress and McNerney for Congress. She also volunteered in the Obama campaign in 2008, and has acted as a volunteer consultant with several other campaigns. She ran for chair of the California Democratic Party in 2009 as what Calbuzz called the “bran muffin” candidate. In her spare time, Chris works as a freelance marketing copywriter.