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Top Ads & the Return of the Calbuzz Election Pool

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Although California’s big statewide races seem headed for what you call your anti-climatic conclusions, there’s still plenty of, um, drama in today’s primary voting.

With our long statewide nightmare almost over, Calbuzz understands that you’re rightfully worried that you’ll fall asleep in front of the TV, drifting off in the recliner and choking yourself blue on a slice of unchewed election night pizza.

Well worry no more. Just enter the Calbuzz Election Pool and you’ll have a rooting interest that will keep you up until every dang vote has been tallied in the classic Dave Jones-Hector De La Torre match up and it’s clear whether Barbara Alby has kept alive her hopes of winning a full term in the Second District of the Board of Eek.

Send us an email (calbuzzer@gmail.com) with your answers to the six questions below before the polls close and contend for Big Prizes:

1st Place – A free 500 word rant on Calbuzz on subject of your choice and two (2) rare edition Calbuzz Guy-With-Finger-In-the-Socket buttons.
2nd Place – Three (3) rare edition Calbuzz-Guy-With-His-Finger-In-the-Socket buttons.
3rd Prize – Free invite to Our Dinner with eMeg (we’ll let you know the date soon!) and four (4) rare edition Calbuzz-Guy-With-His-Finger-In-The-Socket buttons.

Calbuzz Election Pool Questions

1-Who will finish SECOND in the Democratic primary for governor?

2-Who will finish THIRD in the Republican primary for governor?

3-Who will win the nominations for Lieutenant Governor?
a) Democrat
b) Republican

4-Who will win the nominations for Attorney General?
a) Democrat
b) Republican

5-What will be the voter turnout for the primary?

Tiebreaker: How many votes will Birther Leader Orly Taitz win for Secretary of State?

Deadline: 7:59 p.m. (PDT) Tuesday June 8, 2010.

Free speech isn’t free: Calbuzz is not like all these earnest MSM types who feel compelled to express their faux weariness and outrage at the barrage of negative ads that have filled the airwaves for the past two months, while warning voters there’s no end in sight, sigh, sigh.

We LOVE this stuff, and hope that the nominees start tearing each other’s faces off — in a civil, responsible and respectful way, of course –- the day after the primary.

In the meantime, here’s a list of some of our favorite primary ads you may not have seen:

1-Dale Peterson for Alabama Agriculture Commissioner. If you haven’t seen this one yet, you’ve missed the single greatest ad of the season, if not all time. It’s simply beyond comprehension that Dale finished third in the GOP ag commission contest.

2-Nikki Haley for South Carolina Governor (Inner Monologue edition).  State Rep. Nikki Haley, Tea Party toastee and Sarah Palin galpal, was surging in the GOP primary for governor when not one, but two, good ole boy political consultants in Columbia suddenly confessed to having had affairs with her* while, for good measure, a red neck state senator called her a “raghead” because of her Indian ethnic roots. This ad was her response, with some helpful thought balloons courtesy of Slate.com.

3-Sue Lowden for U.S. Senate, Nevada. Former Nevada state party chair Sue Lowden used to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination to challenge embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, until she suggested that barter might be a better system for getting medical care than health insurance. This IE spot is one of a host of web and broadcast ads that knocked her out of that position.

4-Sharron Angle for U.S. Senate, Nevada. Not sure what’s in the water in Nevada, but Lowden’s fall in the GOP Senate contest was matched by the rise of former state legislator Angle, who’s running with the enthusiastic backing of the Tea Party, despite her support of an unusual prison rehabilitation program based on the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard.

5-Rick Snyder for Michigan Governor. Far Side adman Fred Davis brought unknown businessman Rick Snyder from nowhere to major contender for the Republican nomination for governor in the Wolverine State in a matter of weeks by turning his weakness into a strength, positioning him as “one tough nerd.”

6-Carly Fiorina for U.S. Senate California. Speaking of Davis, he’s gotten all kinds of notice for the infamous “Demon Sheep” web ad he produced for Fiorina to attack Tom Campbell in the GOP Senate primary, but we feel too much of the attention came at the expense of his auteurship of the much more textured and layered Hidenboxer which came and went so fast it deserves a second look.

7-Linda McMahon for U.S. Senate, Connecticut. This one is still just a little zygote of an ad, but we’re guessing it won’t be long before it’s full-grown. Years before she became the Republican front-runner for the GOP nomination for Senate, former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO McMahon toughened herself up by getting tombstoned. After this, Richard Blumenthal is a walk in the park.

8-John McCain for U.S. Senate, Arizona. Facing a Tea Party-backed primary election insurgence from radio talk show host J.D. Hayworth, Big Mac went slightly berserk in presenting his rival as a birther-believing, blood-sucking, dumb-ass champion of man-horse marriage. Love the Lion King stuff.

9-Dwight McKenna for New Orleans Coroner. Longtime New Orleans coroner Frank Minyard’s office was implicated in allegations of illegal sales of body parts a few years back, so it was only natural that challenger Dwight McKenna had little choice politically but to portray the incumbent as a mad scientist waving innards at Igor.

10-Gavin Newsom for Lieutenant Governor (or anything else). Okay, so this one is really a 2008 ad, but if Prince Gavin wins the Democratic nod for Lieutenant Governor, we expect that you’re going to see something very similar to this in the general election. Whether you like it or not.

*L’affaire Nikki, btw, also generated one of our favorite quotes from the primary season, in this Washpost wrap—up of the bizarre contest:

“I don’t know what they served at the annual Silver Elephant Dinner for Republicans,” said Dick Harpootlian, a former state Democratic Party chairman, “but it must’ve been a combination of some hallucinogenic and Viagra in the punch, because they’re rutting like bull elephants.”

General election kickoff: With only 147 days until the Nov. 2 election, here’s a look at the vote reg political landscape the candidates will be navigating.

End Note Prediction: The statement Carly Fiorina will most regret having made: “I absolutely would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade if the opportunity presented itself.” Cited in The New Yorker, 6/7/10.

Don’t forget to vote.

Foxy Brown Probes Drugs, Michael Jackson Docs

Friday, August 28th, 2009

jerryfoxUpdate 4 p.m. Attorney General and wannabe governor Jerry Brown announced Friday that agents from his office will conduct “an independent investigation” of doctors involved in the LAPD’s ongoing probe of Michael Jackson’s death. With the county coroner having ruled Jackson’s death a homicide, Brown said members of the AG’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement would pursue leads in the case, most likely involving prescription drugs and anesthesia administered to Jackson shortly before his death.

It is the second high-profile criminal matter that Brown has stepped into in recent days.

Calbuzz pleads guilty. . . To writing about Jerry Brown way more as a candidate for governor than as California’s Attorney General.

But when we saw that Crusty the General’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, working with the Imperial County Narcotic Task Force, Imperial County District Attorney Otero, and Imperial County Sheriff Raymond Loera, had seized 550 pounds of cocaine and marijuana and indicted 16 people – “dealing a body blow to Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel” – we had to take note.

Not so much of the bust – although that was pretty impressive. But of the groovy name of the joint investigation: “Operation Silver Fox.”

Calbuzz is not making this up. (BNE coined the name, we’re told.) This is what you might call perceptual synchronicity – a perfect harmonic convergence of moniker and monikee, of label and labeled. And it gave the Silver Fox himself a chance to brag.

“This notorious cartel smuggled massive quantities of cocaine and marijuana into Southern California, fueling addiction and violence across the nation,” Brown said. “Through a very dangerous and courageous undercover operation, the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement and Imperial County Narcotic Task Force has dealt a body blow to this syndicate and seized hundreds of pounds of narcotics.”

According to Jerry’s press release:

“Initiated in January 2009, the investigation found that the Mexican cartel smuggled drugs into Southern California-often through the Calexico ports of entry using vehicles equipped with hidden compartments-and would subsequently distribute the drugs to buyers in cities throughout the United States and Canada.

“The 8-month investigation included more than 100 surveillance operations (carried out in Bell Gardens, Calexico, Colton, Fontana, Los Angeles, Ontario, Pacoima, Rialto, Riverside and San Diego), 30 undercover meetings and the execution of 6 search warrants. The operations resulted in the seizure of: 420 pounds of cocaine and 136 pound
s of marijuana, with a combined street value of more than $19 million; $1.7 million in U.S. currency; and 9 firearms, including 7 handguns and 2 assault rifles.”

They forgot to add:  “And, we got to give it a really cool name.”

stevepointing

It’s On: Accusing Meg Whitman of a “secret smear campaign,” Steve Poizner threw up a new, “myth-busting” web site Thursday, trying to counter a mash-up attack video, quietly shopped to the media by eMeg’s press secretary, that hits him on the issue of early release for felons.

The video, which is here, juxtaposes a clip of Poizner in 2004, when he was running for the Assembly, with audio tape from an interview he did this week with “John and Ken,” hosts of a conservative talk show in L.A. As a legislative candidate, Poizner said it’s reasonable for the state to grant early release to non-violent felons; as a candidate for governor, the Insurance Commish says that it’s a “terrible, terrible idea” and tries to make like John Wayne.

Whitman flack Sarah Pompei sent the video as an attachment to an (as yet) unidentified reporter on Wednesday. Below a subject line reading “Not for attribution” Pompei wrote “Here’s the video I was telling you about over the phone.” At which point the reporter appears to have forwarded it to Poizner flack Jarrod Agen; he smartly splashed Pompei’s email on Poizner’s new web site, under a big honking headline that reads “Meg’s Smear Campaign.”

“Attacks are fine but make them above board,” Agen told Calbuzz. “Whitman’s avoiding debates and interviews, then has this secret campaign going on, which she doesn’t want linked back to her.”

Pompei shrugged off the “secret smear” charge, noting in an email that “this is a very common practice in media relations,” then turned the attack back on Poizner: “Does our opponent really believe he can freely crisscross the state making statements that are completely at odds with his own record – and it wouldn’t be reported.?”

Armed with this set of facts, the Calbuzz Department of Justice and Janitorial Services issues this considered opinion:

1. The attack on Poizner over early release is totally legit, as were Pompei’s actions in pushing it out, but she loses major style points for getting busted on her email.

2. Agen did nice work in moving quickly in trying to make eMeg’s sneaky M.O. the issue instead of Poizner’s flip-flop on early release* but loses minor style points for hyperventilating rhetoric.

3. Props to both of them for not snitching out the reporter.

4. The abiding issue is that Her Megness is still ducking and hiding instead of coming out into the arena and playing the game. If she wants to accuse Poizner of being a flip-flopping weenie, fine, but have the stones to stand up and say it, instead of hiring Inspector Clouseau to plant the evidence.

*For the record, Poizner’s web site explains his change of position this way: “Since he first ran for the State Assembly in 2003, Steve Poizner has learned more about the serious problems facing California’s prisons, and believes that short-term fixes like the early release of inmates from state prisons cannot fundamentally solve our state’s corrections crisis.”

carlyglamourParis, Brit…and Carly? Back when she was, um, leading Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina briefly basked in the adoration of the nation’s business press, which dubbed her a “Celebrity CEO.” Now limbering up for a U.S. Senate run, Hurricane Carly, in a serendipitous turnabout, has hired on Strategic Perceptions Inc., the campaign media consultants who produced the famous “Celebrity” ad for John McCain in last year’s presidential race.

The McCain ad, which is here,  was produced by SPI chief Fred Davis, who performed a lovely work of political ju-jitsu, tagging Barack Obama as “the biggest celebrity in the world,” while juxtaposing images of his rock-star trip to Europe with those of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

Davis says on his web site that “the spot surpassed one million YouTube views in just 24 hours and instantly changed the national dialogue in that race.” And “The Battle for America 2008,” the terrific, newly published recap of the campaign pretty much affirms that analysis:

“The ad was mocked as petty, a diversion and the latest example of how far McCain had strayed from the kind of campaign he ran either years earlier,” write Washposters Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson. “And yet the commercial worked: It put McCain on offense and, despite the public’s apparent dismissal of the ad, threw the Obama team off its stride.”

Now that Carly the Celebrity is the client, it will be interesting to see what kind of Ju-Jitsu II move Davis devises to inoculate Fiorina against the same kind of charge he used to great effect against Obama. As they like to say over at Fortune magazine,  “flexibility is the key to survival.”

More on Hurricane Herself: The always readable Michael Hiltzik offers a full airing of the “I, Carly” issue in the By God L.A. Times, while a Central Coast Calbuzz correspondent repcalbuzzartorts that the excerpt of her new novel in Dr. H’s column the other day reminds him of the famous line from comic sci-fi writer Douglas Adams: “She looked cool and in charge, and if she could fool herself, she could fool anybody.”

Oh, can’t we open our presents now? As the countdown hits 24 hours, anticipation is building to fever pitch in advance of the big announcement of the Calbuzz New Deal.  See this space Saturday for full details.

Why Indie Voters Don’t Make California Purple

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Purple2In recent years, some pollsters, pundits and consultants have pointed to declines in partisan voter registration, along with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s two elections, to question California’s reputation as a left-leaning “blue state” and to argue that it is in fact a post-partisan “purple state.”

Exhibit A, for the post-partisan advocates, is the voter roll: Democratic registration stands at 45%, down 12% since 1978; Republican registration is 31%, down 3%, and independents now represent 20% of the voters, up 12%. These data, it is argued, prove that partisanship is waning and California is evolving into a bastion of independence.

Here at the Calbuzz Repository of Analysis and Policy, we’ve never bought the neo-kumbaya thesis. It’s long been our view that while political parties, like other large institutions –- corporations, unions, metro newspapers, etc. –- have become atomized and decentralized in the modern era, political behavior is pretty much like it’s always been.

And the Field Poll’s release of a new study of 30 years of voting patterns last week offers further evidence that advocates for the post-partisan theory  misread our history and attitudes. While Field’s data confirm the long-term trend of voters increasingly bypassing both parties to register as independent declines-to-state, their analysis also shows that these independents reliably think and vote like Democrats most of the time.

Consider, for example, voter attitudes on same-sex marriage – one of the most incendiary issues in California politics. Back in 1977, Democrats were opposed 29-63%, Republicans were opposed 30-65% and independents and others were opposed 38-55%. Three decades later – in 2009 – Republicans have hardened their opposition to 23-68%. But Democrats have flipped their position to 64-30% in favor and so have independents — to 57-38% in favor.

Likewise on abortion rights, another divisive issue. Back in 1975, a narrow majority of California voters approved of abortion rights, with Republicans in favor 50-44%, Democrats at 52-43% and independents at 59-34%. By 2006, 70% of voters overall favored abortion rights and the big movement came among Democrats, now 82-10% on the issue and independents at 73-14%. Republicans’ attitude on the issue moved only slightly, to 55-40% in favor.

As Mark DiCamillo and Merv Field explained in the Field Poll release, public attitudes about death and taxes haven’t moved much, but on social issues like same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia,  “California voters, especially Democrats, have become more socially tolerant” over the past three decades. What’s important in the numbers is that independents – while there are more of them – function for all intents and purposes as if they were unregistered Democrats.

The purple state thesis was stated perhaps most forcefully –- and mistakenly — by GOP consultant and former Schwarzenegger communications director Adam Mendelsohn during last year’s presidential elections, when he predicted in September that John McCain was “exactly the kind of Republican” who would be competitive amid the purple hues of the Golden State.

“Certain Republicans are able to win in California and when you have a Republican , like John McCain who has a proven track record of reaching out to independents, reaching out to disaffected Democrats, this is something he built a career on doing. It’s exactly the kind of Republican who poses a real opportunity for us in California,” Mendelsohn told Fox News in September, adding that “California (is) not a red state, or a blue state, but a purple state.”

Others, like Dave Lesher and Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California have made the case more subtly, arguing that because California’s independents combine strains of social liberals and fiscal conservatives, “their vote is up for grabs.”

“Independents’ attitudes, in contrast to that of Democrats and Republicans, don’t fit neatly into traditional liberal and conservative camps,” the two wrote in a LAT op-ed in 2006, adding that this made for “a surprising degree of uncertainty and volatility.”

In fact, it hasn’t. The analysis of fiscal conservatism is based on a single issue: the long-standing strong support of Proposition 13 by voters of every ideological stripe. But by almost any other measure, the notion that independents have their finger to the wind in every election cycle is, we think, not right.

For starters, the rise of independent registration has not been accompanied by the surfacing of any independent political movement. Setting aside the Superintendent of Public Instruction (a nominally non-partisan office) no one has been elected to a statewide office without partisan identification. Beyond that, independents have sided with Democrats most of the time.

– Democrats have won the state in five of the eight presidential elections since 1978 and have made a clean sweep since 1992, when the move towards independent voters started gaining steam. (And no candidate who opposes abortion rights, on which independents have moved left, has won at the top of the ticket, i.e. for president, governor or senator, since George H.W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis here in 1988.)

– Democrats have dominated every single Legislative session except for the anamolus “Contract with America” election of 1994, when Republicans briefly held a majority.

– Democrats have controlled most of the statewide constitutional offices in the last 30 years, buoyed by independent backing.

The purple staters’ best case is the history of the governor’s office which, since Jerry Brown’s re-election in 1978, has been won only twice by a Democrat, who was tossed out before finishing his second term.

But even in the case of the governor, California independents –- with their Democratic-leaning tendencies on social issues and their centrist outlook on fiscal issues –- have for two decades only rewarded the GOP when they have fielded relative moderates like Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  When the GOP has tried to win statewide with one of their red-meat candidates (see: Dan Lungren, 38%, and Bill Simon, 43%) they have been crushed by their inability to win independents.

It is undeniably true that voters are increasingly declining to declare themselves either Democrat or Republican when they register to vote. But scratch an independent in California and you find a voter who leans Democratic.

If the Republicans were to nominate a fiscally moderate, pro-choice, pro-environment candidate who is not seen as virulently anti-immigrant or anti-gay, that candidate might well attract enough independents (and Democrats) to win at the top of the ticket. But it’s unclear that such a candidate can win a Republican primary without first lurching so far to the right as to be poisoned in a general election (recall that Schwarzenegger never had to run in a contested primary, and that Wilson first won nomination after being drafted from the U.S. Senate by GOP leaders as the party’s best hope of ensuring a competitive reapportionment).

The problem with confusing independent voter registration with independent voting behavior is that it leads to the kind of thinking Schwarzenegger’s former communications director engaged in when he told the SF Chronicle in 2008:  “John McCain will give a Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama a serious run in any purple state like California.”

Calbuzz sez: Purple staters can argue that ’til they’re blue in the face, but they’ll still end up red-faced with embarrassment.

Friday Fishwrap: Time for Mayor Tony V’s Close-up

Friday, June 5th, 2009

lu-parker-4Setting the record straight: The news that L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been granting, um, exclusive face time to yet another TV journalist of the female persuasion brought an anguished cry of apology from Dr. P.J Hackenflack, Calbuzz staff psychiatrist and executive BBQ chef.

Several L.A. media hounds, led by KNBC-TV,  reported that Hizzoner has been doing close ups with Lu Parker, a local TV reporter and fill-in anchor, who also was Miss USA of 1994 (Our old pal Rick Orlov of the Daily News, the town’s most venerable political scribe, has the best piece on the gubernatorial implications of the matter). As all the world knows, Tony V in 2007 crashed his decades-long marriage when he had a much-publicized affair with another TV reporter, Mirthala Salinas of Telemundo.

Here at Calbuzz, we’re mostly of the what-he-does-on-his-time-is-his-own business school of political affairs, but when we occasionally wade into tabloid territory, we like to make sure our facts are nailed down. To wit: our own Dr. H was asked, back on April 11 why Villaraigosa was eyeing a race for governor so soon after being re-electeed mayor and replied:dr-hackenflack

“He heard that Telemundo has a new reporter on the political beat.”

Who knew? Today the good doctor issued this correction:

On April 11, I incorrectly identified the TV outlet employing the reporter in question. Ms. Lu works for KTLA-TV, not Telemundo. The Hackenflack Institute regrets the error.

GOOOAAAALLLL!!! When a grim-faced Gov. Terminator stood before the Legislature Tuesday to deliver the latest bad budget news, he somehow forgot to tell them about his latest happy idea for bringing big bucks to California.

Seems the same day as the speech, the AP reported that Arnold is helping to kick start the effort to bring the World Cup to the U.S. – and hopefully to Kaleefornya.

coliseumtitle

“Soccer is the world’s most popular sport and California has been home to some of its most exciting games, and I am proud to be a part of bringing the World Cup back to the United States,” Schwarzenegger said. “The millions of fans from around the globe that will travel to the United States to cheer their teams will prove a great benefit for our state, our nation and the world of soccer.”

Not only that, Herr Governor has offered a host of possible venues – including at least two owned by the state – Cal’s Memorial Stadium and the L.A. Coliseum. Wait a minute – isn’t Arnold selling the Coliseum to make money to keep the schools open? Talk about double booking a venue.

Endorsement ennui: eMeg Whitman has gotten major mileage for her Rose Garden campaign for governor from several big-name national endorsements, including the ubiquitous John McCain, whom we apparently have to blame for convincing Her Megness to get into politics (Yo Meg! Ever heard of the Straight Talk Express?)and House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, proclaimed an alleged rising star by much of the Beltway MSM.

Now Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, the grouchiest man ever to run for governor, is firing back with his own set of endorsements. And while they’re not flashy, unlike most endorsements, they might be actually useful in running a governor’s race.

Poizner spinmeister Kevin Spillane reports his guy has collected endorsements from 32 of 44 GOP legislators, plus “eight former California Republican Party Chairs, dozens of local elected officials, numerous current and former Republican County Chairs and hundreds of members of the California Republican Party State Central Committee.”

Such backing from the political hoi polloi for sure won’t get you a seat with Wolf on “The Situation Room,” not to mention a sloppy wet kiss from Fred Barnes; but it can’t hurt if your goal is to organize a voter registration or GOTV operation in some Assembly district out in Indio or Buttonwillow.

Drill baby drill: The shaggy dog story about the much-chronicled-by-Calbuzz Tranquillon Ridge offshore oil drilling project took another turn this week, when the State Lands Commission hit back at the governor for his effort to overturn their decision rejecting the proposal.

The commission meeting on Monday featured mucho fireworks, with Lite Gov. John Garamendi, who opposes the plan, facing off against fellow commissioner Tom Sheehy of the Department of Finance, representing the governor. For political junkie fans who tire of watching re-runs of Brian Lamb interviewing presidential biographers on “Booknotes,” much of the entertainment is up on You Tube here.

Our favorite highlight is watching Santa Barbara coastal advocate and Democratic assembly hopeful Susan Jordan try to keep her head from exploding when she testifies after Sheehy’s comments.

susanjordansbJordan had a weird week all in all: on Wednesday, the layoff-riddled Chronicle ran an obit of famed lefty attorney Susan Jordan, who cut a wide swath in Bay Area political trials back in the day, and who died in a plane crash this week. Apparently lacking anyone who was around in those days, the Chron managed to publish it with a photo of The Wrong Susan Jordan, who fielded calls from friends across the country to assure them reports of her death were greatly exaggerated. The Chron ran a no-big-deal correction, but no one from the paper bothered to contact The Wrong Susan Jordan to apologize.

Calbuzz condolences to the family of attorney Susan Jordan and to Tom Sheehy, who had to leave the lands commission hearing when he was informed of the untimely death of a family member.

Must reads of the week: The Wall Street Journal reports that California is far from the only state in crisis – and that fiscal health is not returning to the states anytime soon.

Finally: Amid all of America’s awful problems, let’s be glad we at least don’t have a poetry scandal.

Fishwrap Friday: Goo-Goos Gone Wild (Not)

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Will It Be California Forward or Backward? California Forward, the good government group with name-brand backing and top-drawer credentials, will be meeting in Sacramento next week to decide whether to become irrelevant.

Okay, that’s not exactly on the agenda Wednesday. But as the Bay Area Ccafwd_logo1ouncil aggressively forges ahead toward a constitutional convention, its weak brother reform group is moving closer to beside-the-point status — despite backing from the California Endowment, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The bi-partisan group, headed by former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, and Southern California Automobile Association executive Thomas McKernan, has a whole bunch of proposals for Kumbaya stuff like better representation, smarter budgeting and fiscal management.

All of which boil down to: Managing the status quo.

Unless the group resolves next week to take a clear and strong stand on something controversial – say, undoing the two-thirds vote requirement to pass a state budget — the consensus-obsessed California Forward might as well rename itself California Backward.

It’s ironic. The guy who had been heading up the group was former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, until he got called on by President Obama to go to DC to run the CIA. And the group’s roster remains impressive: after Hertzberg and McKernan, it’s got Bob Balgenorth, President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO; Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Chief Executive Officer, Green For All; Bill Hauck, President, California Business Roundtable; Antonia Hernández, President and CEO of the California Community Foundation; Fred Keeley, Treasurer, Santa Cruz County; Stewart Kwoh, President and Executive Director, Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California; Donna Lucas, Founder, Lucas Public Affairs Group; Sunne Wright McPeak, President and Chief Executive Officer, California Emerging Technology Fund; Bruce McPherson, Former California Secretary of State; Chuck Poochigian, Former State Senator and Assemblymember; Cruz Reynoso, Former Associate Justice, California Supreme Court and the Third District Court of Appeal; Constance Rice, Co-Director, Advancement Project and Gene Voiland, Principal, Voiland Enterprises LLC.

But by dithering and doddering about whether to take clear stands on big issues, California Forward risks squandering its stature and taking a permanent back seat to the Bay Area Council on the government reform front . . .

Inmates Push for Asylum Management: Having the Legislature seize control of the University of California from the Board of Regents “is like having the management of GM take over Microsoft.”

That was the best line making the rounds Thursday, one day after Senator Leland Yee trumpeted a whacky proposal for a constitutional amendment to exchange UC’s 141-year old practice of independent governance for an exciting new future hunkered down in the Capitol muck of petty politics.

“It’s ridiculous, silly stuff,” Board of Regents Chairman Dick Blum told Calbuzz. “The people in Sacramento are going to tell us how to run the UC?”

In an interview, Blum vigorously defended the Regents’ management, contrasting the system’s balanced budget with the state’s $25 billion deficit and its AAA bond rating with the state’s, um, ZZZ rank. He also noted UC’s ability to attract top academic and administrative talent, portraying the regents’ hiring of President Mark Yudof a year ago as a milestone in improving the system’s management. Yudof is a nationally recognized leader of the accountability movement, which stresses the use of measurable results systems for universities: “You won’t find a better, proven manager of a hugely complex, public higher education institution anywhere.”

Yee and his allies have attacked the recent approval of mid-six figure salaries for campus chancellors as just the latest outrage of out-of-control executive compensation at UC. Blum said that the average income for the top executives of the system’s 10 campuses are “35-to-40 percent below market” and that the biggest problem for the $18-billion UC is that the state keeps cutting its share of the overall budget, which now amounts to less than $3 billion.

“There is such a thing as the marketplace, there is such a thing as reality,” Blum told us.

Yee’s chief of staff, Adam Keigwin, said the senator is not seeking “day to day management” of the UC system, just more “oversight” that would give the Legislature greater authority over what he described as abuses involving pay for top university officials. Which sounds kinda like a distinction without a difference . . .

The Meg and John Show: Having captured a smashing 37 percent of the vote in California last November, Arizona Senator John McCain will give Republican wannabe governor Meg Whitman some tips on running strong in the Golden State today.

Her Megness is scheduled to appear with Joe the Plumber’s best friend at a Town Hall meeting in Orange County, followed by a “private event” (i.e. fundraiser) in Fresno, according to her campaign. For media mavens desperately seeking a rare opportunity to pose a question to the elusive eMeg, she’ll have a press avail at 2:50 pm (and that’s not 2:51 p.m., either, mister!) in the Executive Room of the Piccadilly Inn. The release on the event says it’s for “Credentialed Media Only” and that part is in BOLD CAPS, so don’t even try sneaking in if you’re some kind of low-rent blogger or something…Wait a minute, credentialed by whom? . . .

Offshore Plan Sinking Fast: Look for a whole lotta pushback on Arnold’s controversial plan to raise revenue by drilling for oil offshore of Santa Barbara, when the State Lands Commission meets Monday in Santa Monica. It’s the first meeting of the group since Governor Deltoids announced the proposal, which would end run a commission vote turning down the project last January . . .

Today’s Sign the End of Civilization is Near: Four states now prohibit drivers from smiling for the photos on their licenses, according to a USA Today report. Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada and Virginia all require you to wipe that grin off your face because it messes with their high-tech, face-recognition software. Bring on the Vulcans! . . .

Spell Check: Congratulations to Kavya Shivashankar, 13, of Olathe, Kansas, who won the National Spelling Bee Thursday by correctly spelling “laodicean” which means lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics. Pronounced “lay-ah-di-see-an,” this is NOT what makes a good Calbuzzer.