Posts Tagged ‘netroots’



36th CD: The Jane, Janice, Debra and Marcy Show

Friday, February 11th, 2011

The most interesting thing about the special election race for L.A.’s just-deserted 36th Congressional District seat is that it will be the first high-profile campaign in California to be played out under the new “jungle primary” rules.

Three under-the-radar legislative specials covered by the new, top-two primary system are coming up in the next few weeks, but  none will attract even a hint of the widespread state and national interest already focusing on the contest to replace the departing Representative Jane Harman, a hardliner on Israel and national security issues, and the only Blue Dog in L.A.

The top contenders eying a run to replace her array from center to left to far left, all but ensuring one of those “battle for the soul of the Democratic party” deals, as they position themselves to win one of the two spots in the playoffs, in what is likely to be an all-Democrat run-off.

The coastal district became one of the most gerrymandered in the state in the 2000 reapportionment, when the big chunk of Republican voters in the Palos Verdes peninsula got cut out. Democrats now hold a 45.3 to 27.6% edge in registration, and Obama carried it by 30 points in 2008.

Intriguingly, the top-two primary rules make it possible that a Republican could make it into the run-off; they’d get totally clobbered, of course, but the fact that district lines will soon be redrawn by the new and unpredictable citizens reapportionment commission is yet another wild card factor that offers ambitious GOP wannabes a chance to raise their profiles this time out.

“This will be one of those races where (the candidates) are out every night, and every community dog beach association will have a forum,” said one veteran operative not working in the campaign.

Here’s the Calbuzz early line on the players:

Janice Hahn – The L.A. City Council member was Harman’s guest at last month’s State of the Union address; the fact that she announced her candidacy and had endorsements lined up about 12 seconds after Harman publicly made it known she was leaving, leads to the surmise that she’s the favorite of the imperious departing incumbent. But Hahn isn’t much of a fundraiser, as she proved in her losing primary campaign for lieutenant governor against Gavin “Lt. Starbuck” Newsom. She has all the charisma of a rutabaga, but she’ll be the closest thing to a moderate in the race; more importantly, she’s already put together a veteran campaign team including L.A. consultant John Shallman, pollster John Fairbank and redoubtable media strategist Joe Trippi. The incendiary Garry South, an old friend of Hahn’s who ran her campaign for Lite Gov, is whispering backstage  as an unpaid adviser.

Debra Bowen – The incumbent Secretary of State was a popular Assembly and state Senate representative of much of the district from the early 1990s until she ran and won her current job in 2006. Termed out in 2014 (she has added incentive to go for Congress because her husband works in Washington) she has some key organizational assets: state Democratic chairman John Burton signaled his approval by putting out a statement noting she was “the only candidate” who had notified the party she was running; the netroots/Calitics crowd just loves her (she quickly put up an “Act Blue”  fundraising page) and her strategist is Parke Skelton, a solid pro. Question that she’ll have to answer: Isn’t there something optically askew about a sitting Secretary of State overseeing a special election in which she’s a candidate? Just askin’.

Marcy Winograd – An L.A. teacher and anti-war activist, Winograd challenged Harman in the last two Democratic primaries, winning 41 percent of the vote last year. Her anti-war on terror positions and pro-Palestinian tilt drives many crazy (see: Waxman, Henry) but there’s no denying she’s got a base in the district that makes her a factor in the “top two” system. Winograd recently moved to Santa Monica, about a mile outside the district, which doesn’t really matter much, and so far has played coy about her intentions; she says she wants to ask Bowen some “tough questions” before making up her mind (which we assume will be along the line of, “Do you favor melting down all U.S. military weapons and turning them into windmills?”) but we’ll be surprised if she doesn’t run.

Republicans – For reasons cited above, GOP pols have reason to run for more than just the exercise, and a batch of them are already panting at the prospect. Any Republican would have to be one helluva’ attractive candidate to matter, though, and Mattie Fein, a communications consultant whom Harman smushed last November; Mike Webb, running from that historically great political stepping stone of Redondo Beach city attorney; and (maybe) former Stanford footballer Damon Dunn, last seen wearing a construction helmet at the Republican state convention, for reasons that remain unclear, don’t make the cut.

A final word: Harman has never been one of our favorite people, not least because of her overbearing air of wealthy entitlement, and we can’t help but suspect her think tank deal has been in the works for some time, given that her predecessor announced he was leaving last May. So we agree with Huffpost blogger Richard Grenell that G.I. Jane ought to pay the cost of the damn special election to succeed her. What better way to spend some of Sidney’s zillions?

What Sacramento’s Wimpy Democrats Aren’t Doing

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

donkeyWhen Calbuzz bashed the Democrats’ legislative leaders for getting rolled by Arnold and the Reeps in the budget fight, we heard some cries of “foul” from defenders of Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President Darrell Steinberg.

Steinberg spokesman Jim Evans and blogger/analyst Bill Bradley were among those who dropped by Calbuzz to comment on the post, arguing essentially that Bass and Steinberg had cut the best deal possible.

“The budget sucks, of course,” wrote Mr. Crankypants Bradley, “And your real world alternative would be … What?”

A fair enough question, and one we answer with three words of advice for the Democrats: Go on offense.

As a political matter, the plain fact is that the Republicans in Sacramento out-thought, out-maneuvered and out-led the Democrats throughout the budget fight. Despite huge majorities in both houses, the D’s remained in a defensive crouch, constantly reacting to whatever the Republican governor and his allies decided to do, consistently wilting while constantly whining that the two-thirds vote budget requirement made it impossible for them to do more.

No one’s saying that the two-thirds vote doesn’t make life difficult. We’ve argued repeatedly that dumping it is the single most important reform needed to attack dysfunction in Sacramento. But Democrats by now have managed to work themselves into a complete state of psychological paralysis about it.

Instead of aggreselephant-donkey-boxing-thumbsively fighting against the tyranny of the minority, Democrats act like the two-thirds is some unspeakable force of nature, an all-powerful totem before which all must bow down and worship in fear.

Underlying this passive posture are two crippling, if unspoken, assumptions: 1) that policy is somehow separate from politics and 2) that the only reality that matters is that unfolding in the hothouse halls, meeting rooms, chambers, restaurants and saloons of the cul de sac that is Sacramento.

Steinberg, in particular, appears so intent on playing the policy statesman that he seems to have forgotten he’s also a leader of a political party, with plenty of untapped resources available to make recalcitrant Republicans pay a price in their own districts for their stubbornness.

Bass, with her adoring gazes at Schwarzenegger, looks and acts like she’s fallen down the rabbit hole of Sacramento; having lost the perspective that there’s a whole big world outside, she fails to wield the fierce and formidable campaign style weapons at her disposal — money, research, troops and technology — in members’ districts around the state.

The bottom line for Democrats is that, unless and until the two-thirds rule gets rolled back, their last, best hope of prevailing is to start treating their political fights with Republicans as a kind of permanent campaign. Here are five tactics the Dems could use for starters:

1. Bury the petty feuds between the Assembly and Senate and among members. These are a key reason why Democrats never get their act together when they’ve got a Republican governor — at least since the Speaker of the Assembly has become a rotating position. Even when John Burton was President Pro Tem, the Assembly and Senate were constant rivals — a foolish and vain conflict that saps strength from what should be a vital majority party. Sure, term limits have made members crazy, so that everyone’s angling for the next position and looking over their shoulder. But unless the party functions as a power center, majorities in the Legislature aren’t worth a bucket of warm spit.

2. Craft a message. If the Democrats had a clear, consistent and collaborative message in the budget fight, they did a terrific job of keeping it secret. Someone in a position of authority – or a collaborative group — needs to step up and start convening conference calls that include key players – top legislative leadership, John Burton and state party operatives, key Sacramento consultants like Gale Kaufman and Jason Kinney, and maybe even representatives of the gubernatorial candidates – to discuss the news and hash out a simple and coherent message in anticipation or response, to be sounded by every player from every platform so that they start framing the debate and defining the issues.

3. Identify and exploit the weaknesses of individual Republican members. Take a lesson from the way Obama’s White House operates in going after political enemies, like Senator Jim DeMint, or the way the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee attacks vulnerable GOP members in their districts.  Take a hint from Pete Stark, whose interactive map of stimulus spending could be used throughout California Assembly and Senate districts.

Democratic leaders need to put their forces on a war room footing that quickly and constantly spins off web and cable ads, robo calls, earned media opportunities and direct mail ads pointing out exactly what a GOP member’s “just say no” stance means for his district. Flood the zone with truth squads, protests and demonstrations at member’s offices, focusing tightly on the real world impacts to real people – teachers, cops, nurses, service employees, the sick and elderly – of the ideological recalcitrance of GOP assemblymen and senators.

4. Agree on a progressive tax strategy and stick with it. From day to day, the Democrats bounce around about the need for government spending in a recession, embracing a tobacco or liquor tax one day, sales tax reform the next, ending corporate loopholes on yet another. The net effect is to make them look craven and desperate to get their hands on any public money anyway they can, instead of having a coherent strategy of governance that is both progressive and practical, and that speaks to real people.

For starters, develop in depth and detail for the public the arguments for an oil severance tax – it truly is a scandal that California is the only oil-producing state without one – and stick with it instead of folding the first time anti-tax Republicans jump up and go “boo.”’ The tax cut, trickle down theory of government was soundly rejected by Americans in the last election, and Democrats need to stop living in fear that it’s still 1978.

5. Build stronger alliances with the netroots. The most consistent and smartest thinking and writing about progressive politics isn’t happening in Sacramento, but being churned out day after day on sites and by organizations like Calitics, Orange County Progressive, and the California Budget Project. Many Democratic members, just like Calbuzz, may find some of their stuff too lefty, but their reach into communities of interest of political activists makes them invaluable allies in spreading the message about progressive values and reaching critical mass in the battle to shape the political narrative that shapes public opinion.

Surely, professional political operatives in Sacramento can come up with a better list than ours. We’re just a couple of old hacks who’ve watched politics for 60 years or so, and advising partisans isn’t our job. But the next time we take a shot at the Democrats for their feckless and impotent behavior, don’t say we haven’t laid out some alternatives.