Posts Tagged ‘Lou Cannon’

How Sacto Is Like Cairo: Why Difi Rivals Are Doomed

Monday, February 7th, 2011

One of the inherent strengths of local news operations, way too rarely exercised (see: newspapers, death of) is the daily opportunity to report how and why big global events matter to readers and viewers on the home front.

Tom Meyer, the blogosphere’s incarnation of  Thomas Nast, ofers a bit of this type of journalistic service with his latest take today, showing how the dramatic events in Egypt are a kind of real time Rorschach test which provide folks all along the political spectrum a chance to indulge in reassuring themselves, and insisting to others, that they’ve been right, right, right all along.

Underscoring the point, Frank Rich, the Pauline Kael of American politics, batted out a stinging indictment of the MSM this week, for its incessant braying of the clichéd claim that the crucial post hoc ergo propter hoc about the Egyptian populist revolt, which people there foolishly think is about their nation’s authoritarianism, economy and political corruption, is the role played in the events by…Twitter.

“Let’s get a reality check here,” said Jim Clancy, a CNN International anchor, who broke through the bloviation on Jan. 29 by noting that the biggest demonstrations to date occurred on a day when the Internet was down. “There wasn’t any Twitter. There wasn’t any Facebook,” he said. No less exasperated was another knowledgeable on-the-scene journalist, Richard Engel, who set the record straight on MSNBC in a satellite hook-up with Rachel Maddow. “This didn’t have anything to do with Twitter and Facebook,” he said. “This had to do with people’s dignity, people’s pride. People are not able to feed their families.”

“War,” Ambrose Pierce famously said, “is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” But it’s hard to escape the sad conclusion that the corporate organs of the MSM have failed to do much educating about events in the Mideast; those in search of more serious and substantial information could do worse than to check out the live streaming reportage of Al Jazeera’s English coverage.

Thanks to the cowardice of broadcast and cable executives everywhere, this news service currently is all but unavailable anywhere in the country, a state of affairs that the organization is trying to address with its February 10 “Meet-up to demand Al Jazeera on your TV,” an online campaign which,  paradoxically, mirrors the very demands for the free flow of ideas now being sounded in Egypt.


Difi and the GOP: Since Calbuzz launched, our Department of Mission Statements and Corporate Branding Jive has churned out any number of cheesy memorable slogans in a pitiful attempt to justify our existence to help you, our loyal readers, understand who we are and what we do.

Shooting the Wounded,” of course, reflects the historical role of sofa-bound political writers and editorialists everywhere, while “Burning Our Bridges One at a Time,” reflects our own deep and abiding belief in the solemn constitutional responsibility of the press to hurl brickbats, cheap shots and childish insults wildly and randomly, without regard to race, creed, color, sexual orientation, partisan belief or political persuasion.

Another great ideal in which Our Founders believed deeply is this:  “Politics is the greatest spectator sport of all.”

So it was that we began trying to drum up interest in the 2012 Senate race before the ink was even dry on the statement of vote from the 2010 elections. In furtherance of this goal, we specifically have encouraged Republican gov race loser Meg Whitman to take a crack at venerable Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein next year.

Alas, however, our project has now been dealt a severe blow, with the release of a survey by Public Policy Polling that shows Feinstein crushing Whitman 55-35% in a simulated contest among voters – the same margin she holds over former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, who got stomped by Difi’s sister Senator-for-life, Barbara Boxer.

Other matchups: Feinstein over former Congressman Tom Campbell 51-37%; Herself over former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner 52-34%, and  Our Dianne smacking Darrell Issa (R-Car Alarm) by 54-33%, and crunching former Gov. Arnold Schwarzmuscle 59-25%.

(Weed whacking methodology alert) The only consolation for the potential GOP challengers (and for Calbuzz) is that PPP’s survey is an interactive voice response (IVR) poll, commonly known as a robopoll – in which a computer interacts with a respondent (like polls run by Survey USA and Rasmussen). And, heaven help us, Dean Debnam of PPP tells Calbuzz that their sample was taken from voter records (which would be fine if you were doing live calls and asking for that person) but the computer doesn’t know whether it’s interacting with the actual voter from the sample or someone else in the household. Sheesh.

Still, the numbers are of a consistency and magnitude that they’re likely to discourage potential GOP contenders pretty quickly, particularly those pondering the wisdom of tossing $1 billion or so large into a rat hole.

To which Calbuzz says: Take heart eMeg. After spending just shy of $180 million to lose the governor’s race, why not pop for a real survey and find out if you’d have any shot against Queen Mum?

Because. let’s face it, this whole in-between-elections, public policy thing ain’t much except a guaranteed cure for insomnia, and we’d be willing to pay to cover a cage match between you and Difi. We’d even give you a second chance to go to dinner with us.

Reagan Agonistes: Amid the orgy of commentary and political posturing accompanying the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, here’s the half-dozen items atop our recommended reading list:

1-Most intriguing op-ed was penned for the Orange County Register under the byline of the aforementioned Difi . We’re not sure we buy her argument that RR’s greatest strength was his “bipartisanship,” but she’s been going on about the importance of “governing from the center” for four decades, so you’ve at least got to hand it to her for consistency.

2- The most authoritative source on all things Reagan remains the canon of  Lou Cannon, who started covering him as a Sacto correspondent for the San Jose Mercury News.

3-Best quickly assembled, 60-second guide to memorable Reagan quotes is found over at Huffpost.

4-Most interesting observations on what made Reagan a first-rate politician come from Ken Khachigian, who turned in a workmanlike job of first person reporting about the great man’s speechifying tradecraft. (H/T Flashreport).

5-Most stomach-churning self-serving effort to identify with Reagan comes from, who else, Sarah Palin. Sorry, Lady Sled Dog, “we’re on the road to ruin,” is just about as far from his politics as it’s possible to be.

6-Best single quote comes from Richard Reeves, via Joel Fox“Ronald Reagan is still president,” he said, meaning the country is living with a political philosophy set out by Reagan. True, true, true, unfortunately.

Bonus read on Reagan: ThinkProgress has a little gem of a piece that will set conservatives’ hair on fire, including factoids on Reagan’s record as a serial tax-raiser.

Press Clips: One Woman I-Team Sacks Tax Board

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Mega-kudos to Laura Mahoney, Sacramento correspondent for the Daily Tax Report and the winner of the Calbuzz Little Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting, for a superb, 25,000-word probe of the powerful, under-the-radar state Board of Equalization.

The only journalist who regularly covers the board, she  spent 18 months reporting and writing the five-part series, which reveals an incontrovertible pay-to-play connection between campaign contributions to its elected members and the outcome of tax appeals on which they rule.

“I realized when (the project) took me as long as it did to gestate my babies, I was in trouble,”  said Mahoney, a mother of two.

Known as “the Board of Eeek!” to generations of California reporters who quake with fear at the mere thought of covering complex financial stories, the BOE not only administers billions of dollars of tax collections, but also adjudicates disputes about them between the state and corporations or individuals.

Mahoney reports that California’s is the only such elected board in the nation with those dual roles. With its members (four are elected from districts of about 8 million people each, the fifth is the state controller) as dependent on special interest campaign cash as every other state pol, the  big accounting, law and other professional firms that do business with the board, along with their  PACs and high-end clients, are only too happy to accommodate.

Mahoney is a 20-year veteran of the Daily Tax Report, the flagship of BNA, a Washington-based publisher of  periodicals focused on high-level, specialized policy reporting for business and government. Besides the extraordinary level of detail and data analysis in her pieces, the strength of her reporting is the understated, dispassionate style and tone of her writing (kinda like us!), which makes her relentless accumulation of fact upon fact upon fact, and the conclusions she derives from it, that much more powerful. A summary of her findings begins:

Taxpayers with complex tax dispute cases before the California State Board of Equalization were more likely to win their cases if they or their representatives made campaign contributions to the elected board members, either directly or through political action committees, according to a detailed examination by Daily Tax Report, a BNA publication.

In a series of reports, BNA examined the outcomes of 70 complex, high-stakes cases argued before the board between 2002 and 2009, and compared those cases to publicly available campaign finance records.

BNA found more than $1 million in contributions to board members from taxpayers or their representatives who argue those cases before the board. All of the contributions were legal and contributors who spoke to BNA denied any causality between their contributions and success before the board.

We just bet they did. Check this:

However, a correlation appears to exist between contribution levels and success before the board, based on BNA’s original research.  BNA found that 20 of the 70 cases examined had less than $250 tied to them, and those taxpayers won their cases 30 percent of the time.

Success rates rose with higher contribution rates. Dividing the remaining cases in equal groups, BNA found another 17 cases had between $250 and $16,000 in contributions tied to them, and those taxpayers won 53 percent of the time. The next group of 16 cases had $16,000 to $50,000 tied to them, and those taxpayers won 75 percent of the time. The last group of 16 cases had $50,000 to $137,000 tied to them, and those taxpayers won 88 percent of the time.

Huh. Imagine that.

There’s lots more good stuff, as Mahoney names names, dissects the politics of the board’s operations and weighs the policy implications of what she found.

One of the conclusions of the final report of the governor’s tax reform commission released last year was that California should create an independent board to handle the politically charged issue of tax appeals.  So far, no one in the Administration or Legislature has seen fit to try to push such a reform.

After reading Mahoney’s special report, someone really, really should.

Cutting room floor:

Finally someone notices that the  “anti incumbent wave” of primary season is all about Republicans.

Lou Cannon’s take on mid-terms: mercifully free of heavy breathing

We’re still working our way through Todd Purdum’s big Vanity Fair piece on what’s wrong with Washington ‘cuz we keep stopping where he says $3.5 billion got spent on lobbying last year – $1.3 million for each day Congress was in session.

World’s only human shorter than Barbara Boxer gets it pretty much right.

Judge Vaughn Walker: liberal elite insider. Uh, wasn’t he appointed by a Republican?

What’s Obama’s problem?

A-He’s too condescending.

B-He thinks he’s Prime Minister.

C-He sold out much too fast.

D-He’s totally incompetent.

E-He doesn’t have a problem.

F-He’s easily intimidated.

G-His problem lies in the very nature of man.

Calbuzz sez: B, C and F.

In case you missed it: Since the whole dispute over the Manhattan Islamic community center erupted, we’ve been determined to keep Calbuzz a Ground Zero Mosque Free Zone. But we finally came across something that sums up our take, thanks to Aasif Mandvi.

Prop. 14 Debate: Good Arguments on Both Sides

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

Calbuzz is of two minds about Proposition 14 on Tuesday’s ballot.

On the one hand, we think anything both major political parties are dead set against must be touching on something important. And we can see how it would be that if candidates had to appeal to voters of all stripes — not just Democrats and Republicans — it’s possible that more centrist, moderate, reasonable legislators might get elected who would be prepared to compromise in Sacramento to get something done, fercrineoutloud.

On the other hand, there’s a pretty sound argument that parties ought to be able to pick their own representatives and that taking away that right cuts parties off at the knees at a time when parties are bringing people into the political process who might otherwise have no clue for whom to vote. We’ve already approved a new, non-partisan system for creating legislative boundaries. Let’s give that a chance to work before trying to fix electoral outcomes by tinkering with the electoral system.

Here are a pair of arguments on Proposition 14, from the great political writer and author Lou Cannon and from Thomas G. Del Beccaro, vice chair of the California Republican Party.

Yes: Candidates Will Have to Appeal to Independents

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

By Lou Cannon
Special to Calbuzz

California’s political system is broken. Hamstrung by unbending partisanship and the requirement of a two-thirds vote to pass a budget or a tax increase, a dysfunctional Legislature has persistently failed to deal with the state’s pressing problems or its debilitating structural deficit.

Reformers have responded with grandiose proposals for change, such as a constitutional convention, which have come to naught. Since the Legislature and the major political parties resist any and all reforms, Californians who want to take back their state have no choice except to make a series of incremental changes through the initiative process.

The first useful step in this process came in 2008, when voters approved Proposition 11, which will take redistricting out of the hands of the legislators and vest it in a citizen’s commission. The new districts will be drawn after this year’s census for the 2012 election. The next step is to pass Proposition 14, opening up elections so that the top two candidates in the primary, regardless of party, would advance to the general election. This provision would apply to most state and federal elective offices but not to presidential primaries.

Proposition 11 and Proposition 14 are best understood as companion pieces. Proposition 11 was needed because legislators protect their careers at the expense of the rest of us by gerrymandering their districts to protect themselves and their parties. The cozy, one-sided districts they created assured that there would be no competition in the general election. This effectively disenfranchised independents (known as “declines-to-state” in California), most of whom do not participate in the primaries. It also tended to drive both major parties to extremes.

Liberals have a disproportionate advantage in the Democratic primaries, conservatives an even more decisive edge in most GOP primaries. Moderates in either party who might appeal to independents in the general election had so little chance in the primaries that most of them chose not to run. As a result, many Democratic officeholders tend to be reflexively liberal—or at least in thrall to the public employee unions who finance them. Many Republicans, on the other hand, are rigid conservatives who stand ready to block even the most reasonable budget if it contains a whiff of a tax hike.

For the past decade, budget compromises have occurred only when a GOP legislator broke with his party on tax issues. The occasional courageous Republican who did so incurred the wrath of his party and often the loss of his job.

Anyone old enough (as I am) to remember the creativity of the California legislature in the mid-20th Century, when it was acclaimed as the best in the nation, can’t help being appalled by the present collection of ideologues and party hacks. Proposition 14 could change this by greatly increasing the number of independent-minded moderates in the candidate pool. Every voter would receive the same ballot, putting independents on an equal footing with party regulars.

Such a ballot might also encourage the parties to forth candidates of broad appeal to assure themselves a spot on the November ballot. There is, of course, no special virtue to being a moderate. On any given issue moderates can be as wrong (or right) as liberals or conservatives. But Proposition 14 would level the playing field. Polls show that some 40 percent of the voters consider themselves to be moderates, and they are conspicuously underrepresented in Sacramento. Proposition 14 is an incremental reform that would give sensible centrists a chance.

Lou Cannon of Santa Barbara is the foremost biographer of Ronald Reagan in the world, and a former political writer for the Washington Post and the San Jose Mercury News.

How eMeg’s Spending Is Like Quantum Physics

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

In the study of physics, the “standard quantum limit” is the point at which the precise magnitude of a physical quantity can no longer be measured.

Two months before the primary election for governor, Meg Whitman’s unprecedented campaign spending — including another cool $20 million tossed in late Monday — has hit the standard quantum limit of politics: its effect on the governor’s race has moved into unknowable territory.

To any would-be prognosticator, seer or soothsayer Calbuzz offers this verbum sapienti: Like scientists mulling data from the Large Hadron Collider, we have no idea what the effect of $100-150 million in campaign spending will do in a California statewide election, because we’ve never seen anything like it.

As the new USC/LA Times poll makes clear, billionaire political novice eMeg has thus far used a record-shattering $47 million plus to bury primary rival Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner deep beneath a 40-point lead. Confirming earlier PPIC and Field  surveys, she’s also edged slightly ahead of Democrat Jerry Brown, the Attorney General, who’s surely contemplating the uncertainties of running against Quantum Mechanics Meg and her possible $150 million campaign fund.

As Lou Cannon wrote in Politics Daily last week:

“Given Brown’s long preoccupation with campaign finance, there is a touch of irony to his present predicament… Brown seems shaken by the magnitude of the Whitman commercials. He complained during my interview that Whitman had reduced “the public space of America to a 30-second commercial on sports and entertainment shows.” Later, again deploring Whitman’s spending, he said. “The future of our very way of government is at stake in this election.”

Some among the cognoscenti wonder if voters will, at some point, find a chalk-on-a-blackboard cognitive dissonance created by a candidate who spends with no limits  to become  governor in order to cut spending.

Others suggest that as Whitman’s spending keeps growing exponentially, it will bump up against some outer limit where cash begins to have diminishing returns, or even a negative impact, as voters find repulsive her free-spending ways amid the state’s worst recession in a generation.

If so, she sure hasn’t hit that limit yet. As USC/Times and other polls make clear:

1-For now, at least, the pro-choice Whitman has erased the gender gap that has historically benefited Democratic candidates in statewide races. In the USC/Times poll she led 44-38% among women; in the other two big independent surveys, Whitman and Brown were essentially tied: 45-43% in her favor in the Field Poll and 43-40% for Brown in PPIC.

2-She’s splitting the independents and is virtually tied among moderates, while Brown has yet to consolidate even six in 10 Democrats and just two thirds of the liberals.

3-Her as-yet-unchallenged campaign narrative — declaring business experience a crucial credential for running government – may be preposterous in the wake of the banking and derivative scandals and a worldwide recession, but it’s making some inroads among California voters: In last fall’s USC/LAT poll, voters were divided evenly on whether business or government experience was the best qualification. Now, business experience has a slight plurality – 40-35%.

As our friend Cathy Decker of the Los Angeles Times put it: “The survey demonstrated how thoroughly Whitman, the billionaire former head of eBay, has dominated the California elections thus far.”

About 65% of all voters say they’ve seen TV ads and 75% of those people have seen Whitman ads. The effect is powerful.

Jesse Contario of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (one of the firms that did the poll) told Calbuzz that voters who have seen Whitman ads favor her 53-40% over Brown, compared to voters who have not seen ads at all, who favor Brown 40-33%. Moreover, among voters who say they’ve seen ads, but not Whitman’s (i.e., they’ve seen Poizner ads or think they’ve seen ads for Brown), Brown leads 48-36%.

Calbuzz told you back in March: eMeg’s money — now $59 million of her own invested — is moving voters. But maybe not as much as you might think.

Whitman’s favorable-to-unfavorable ratio was 17-14% in the USC/LA Times poll last fall; now it’s 30-23% — a net improvement of just 4%. That’s not a lot to show for $47 million, especially when just 8% of her support is very favorable.

Fortunately for Brown, very little of Meg’s increased favorability has come from Democrats and independents. In fact, her Democratic favorability went down from 12-19 in the fall to 21-31 now – a net decrease of 3%, while her independent favorability went from 16-14% in the fall to 25-21% now, a net improvement of just 2%.

eMeg’s big jump came among Republicans who favored her 26-8% in the fall but 47-12% now – a net pick-up of 35 percentage points.

Moreover, while Whitman is beating Brown 50-38% among white voters, she’s losing blacks 45-22% (a number that historically seems likely to move to about 90-10% by the end of the race) and 52-29% among Latinos (even before Whitman’s views on immigration and Brown’s history with Latinos have been put out there).

“Her $47 million has grown her name ID but hasn’t cemented any strong feelings for her candidacy,” said Brown campaign manager Steve Glazer.

Still, for Brown, the political standard quantum limit factor poses a dilemma.

Although his campaign fund of $15 million might seem impressive in any other year, in 2010 it suggests that in the end he will be able to afford 12 to 15 weeks of advertising.

For Brown, the question is when he goes on the air.

Conventional wisdom holds that he should save his resources until the fall, when voters are paying more attention and he can close the argument. But the quantum physics of Whitman’s spending have blown out all the theories of conventional wisdom.

Brown can expect to be battered on a daily basis by Whitman starting with the day after the primary – or even before – and he needs to think about stopping the bleeding before she has totally defined him and herself and he’s in a Poizner-like hole too deep to escape.

But if he goes on the air now and tries to knock Meg down a peg, he’ll burn through resources he’ll desperately need when he’s facing down the barrel of a huge cannon this fall.

Democratic Gov. Gray Davis had to make a decision in the winter of 2001, when former LA Mayor Dick Riordan, the favorite to become the Republican candidate against him, started gaining popularity among Democrats and independents.

In order to keep him from making further inroads into Davis’s base, Davis went on the air and attacked Riordan from the left on abortion. Little did they know that the attack would also weaken Riordan among Republicans, causing his candidacy to collapse.

Brown, it appears from the USC/LA Times poll anyway, does not yet have a similar problem. Whitman’s favorability among Democrats and independents has not grown and Brown still has an edge among self-described moderates, 44-41%. This helps explain why Brown’s campaign brain trust feels confident in holding fire while Meg continues to spend millions.

At the same time, if Brown was counting on Poizner to take a bite out of eMeg, he’s likely to be disappointed.

The embarrassing spectacle of Poizner being booed and picketed by hundreds of high school students, teachers and administrators from Mt. Pleasant High last week, after hoping to boost his chances by writing a feel-good book about them, is just the latest misstep in a campaign that has been full of them.

As eMeg henchman Mike Murphy tweeted last week: @stevepoizner gives a master class in how to turn a campaign puffery book into an utter disaster. Typical TV newsclip: http://bit.ly/dirAyU.