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Posts Tagged ‘Steve Glazer’



The Death and Possible Re-Birth of Negotiation

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Whether or not the dozen California Republican legislators (more than enough for a minyan!) who have refused to join the politically suicidal Taxpayers Caucus are all modern day Pharisees, Gov. Jerry Brown was not far off the mark comparing them to Nicodemus ben Gurion, the prominent Jewish elder who is said to have met with Jesus under cover of night to avoid the risk of ostracism.*

“I’m not going to blow their cover,” Brown said of the individuals he’s been meeting with – those who have declined to drink the Kool Aid being dispensed by the Grover Norquist-inspired Ostrich Phalanx and henchmen, like our pal Jon Fleischman.

The small band of savvy Republicans appear to get that a) they are in a position to extract at least some of their cherished goals in exchange for merely voting to put Brown’s tax extensions on the June ballot and b) their old world is rapidly changing, because of the new rules of redistricting and the top-two primary system, so they can’t afford to stand in the doorway and block up the hall.

As Rob Stutzman, the Republican strategist who advised Meg Whitman’s campaign for governor, put it: “They have more leverage than they’ve had at any time arguably over the last decade.” But then guys like Stutzman and Jim Brulte, the former legislative leader, are old-school pols who believe, like Ronald Reagan did, that you negotiate to reach agreement and that agreement – i.e. governance — is a good thing.

At a time when “compromise” has been stricken from the actions and vocabulary of Tea Partiers in Washington and the intransigent governor of Wisconsin (except as a pejorative to attack those who disagree with their rigid stances), the efforts to strike a deal by a handful of GOP legislators in Sacramento is a smart and responsible move, both as policy and as politics.

By bucking the unrelenting pressure of no-compromise apparatchiks and no-tax ideologues in their party’s extremist wing, these Republicans – like Sam Blakeslee, Anthony Cannella, Bill Tom Berryhill, and Bob Huff, to name a few — have set the stage for a political counter-narrative to the bitter union-busting drama being played out in Madison, and the looming threat of a federal government shut-down by Congress under Weeper of the House John Boehner.

If the GOP’s Responsible Caucus can wring enough legislative concessions from Brown to justify the intraparty flak they’ll take for helping him pass the key element of his plan – a statewide vote on extending $12 billion in temporary higher taxes and fees – they also will have a dealt a major blow to the politics of deadlock that have dominated California for a generation.

Urging them on – with visions of business-friendly reforms dancing in their heads – are groups like the Bay Area Council, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and even the California Chamber.

It should be noted, by the way, that Brown’s problem is not just with Republicans. Forces on the Democratic left are extremely upset about the massive spending cuts Brown has already extracted and, if the Republicans seeking a deal overplay their hand and some interest group – the California Teachers Association, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, Service Employees International Union, or any other – decides to oppose whatever deal Brown negotiates, the whole thing could explode.

A way out — our sources are betting — is at best a 50-50 proposition.

As Steve Glazer, Brown’s senior adviser told Calbuzz over the weekend: “We’re sitting on bar stools in a foot of gasoline and everybody’s got a match.”

The ossification of Sacramento was created by a battery of political circumstances, including some so-called “reforms,” that together had the unintended consequence of bogging down the Capitol in the gridlock of polarization and partisanship. The key ingredients in hardening the political cement are 1) diminished party registration 2) non-competitive elections and 3) term limits.

Add to these closed primaries, campaign contribution limits that don’t apply to interest groups and a cable-driven coarsening of political dialogue and you have a recipe for impasse. That’s how we arrived at a situation where negotiation is seen as collaboration and compromise is regarded as capitulation.

Ironically, the sudden willingness of at least a few members of the minority to consider compromise, negotiation and deal-making to be useful and acceptable tools, in place of the just-say-no obstructionism that has long marked the GOP position, may itself have been triggered by two new reforms: a new, non-partisan citizens commission that is redistricting the state and a new “top-two” primary system are both designed to encourage more moderate politics; they may be working even before they’ve fully taken effect.

“With open primaries in redistricted seats in a presidential election all the old rules are out the door,” said Brulte.

Diminished party registration, wherein moderates and those with loose party affiliations have registered in ever greater numbers as Decline to State (independent of a party), has meant that those who still vote in their party primaries are the most ideological, the most partisan and the most intractable voters in any particular political jurisdiction.

In October 1994, Democrats had 49% of registration, Republicans 37% and DTS 10%. In October 2010, Democrats were 44%, Republicans 31% and DTS 20%. Who left the Democratic and Republican parties (or chose not to join them)? Moderates who didn’t want to be part of the left and right wings of the electorate.

So those who won their party primaries – and thus those eventually elected to the Assembly and state Senate – reflected (and shaped) the ideological cast of their districts.  Legislators who refuse to negotiate toward an agreement are, in many cases, perfectly reflecting the narrow electorate – in existing districts — who sent them to Sacramento. It’s the hard core who’s voting.

Non-competitive seats, partially a function of gerrymandering and partly a function of living patterns of the California population, have ensured the election, re-election, and re-re-election of the same voices and interests year in and year out.

One liberal may replace another; one conservative may follow a predecessor, but the ideological shape and tone and color remains the same. The general election means little in most cases because all the action is during the primary. If an incumbent – or a candidate who appears to be an incumbent because he or she served in a different office – is in the race, you can all but forget about it.

Few seats are actually competitive and where they are, it’s almost always just in the race to see who gets to represent the party in November.

Term limits have a compounded negative effect. On the one hand, they drive those just elected to spend ever greater amounts of time planning for their re-election and advancement to another seat in a different house. On the other hand, they leave Sacramento with a neophyte corps of legislators who have no institutional knowledge, no long-term commitment, no real power base in their own communities and less knowledge than the permanent legislative staff and the army of lobbyists who are always on the case.

Moreover, leadership is a joke: it’s almost impossible to enforce caucus discipline, it’s increasingly difficult to speak with one voice for either party, “leaders” are in place long enough to get a cup of coffee and replaced before they’ve found the secret drawer in the big desk or learned the name of the janitor who empties their trash can.

Coupled with campaign contribution limitations that don’t apply to interest groups, term limits mean that instead of the special interests needing the lawmaker, it’s the other way around – legislators need the special interests more than the pleaders need them.

And Now for Something
Completely Different

The handful of GOP legislators who are quietly (secretly) negotiating with Gov. Brown just may get this: by the end of August, the non-partisan redistricting of California legislative boundaries should be completed and the next round of elections will not involve party primaries but a top-two system of electing candidates.

We may even see big labor begin to play a role in what used to be Republican districts. Sources tell Calbuzz there’s talk in the labor community about spending in districts where particular legislators have made it a point to work against their interests.

Candidates who are identified as obstructionist or worse, responsible for massive teacher layoffs, shorter school years, public safety cutbacks, closed state parks, etc., are going to have one hell of a time picking up enough moderate and independent votes to keep their offices. They will NOT be running in tailored districts and they won’t have a free shot at a party position.

You gotta wonder how smart it is to rely on right-wing operators, who ask, like FlashReport’s Fleischman, if “The CalChamber is Ready to Betray Taxpayers Again?” As a Republican, just exactly what is your base if you can’t include the Chamber of Commerce?

No wonder Flash and his cronies on the right are hoping at the GOP convention to change the Republican Party’s rules to give central committees the power to dub candidates official GOP standard bearers. That may their only weapon and frankly, we’re not sure, even if they can adopt this Soviet Rule, that it would do the trick for their people.

As Steve Harmon of the Contra Costa Times so ably noted, the notion that Republicans who voted for tax hikes under Gov. Arnold Schwarzmuscle were driven from office is mostly bunk. “Of the six Republicans who voted for taxes (in 2009), only one later went on to defeat in a Republican primary. Two captured GOP nominations in statewide contests, another was elected to a county post and two others dropped out of politics.”

And that was before redistricting and the top-two primary system. And before Brown, who was allowed to dispense his vows of poverty and chastity in order to leave the seminary, offered dispensation to any Republicans who signed the GOP anti-tax pledge.

* It was to Nicodemus, as reported in the Gospel of John (3:16), that Jesus, after saying that man must be reborn in faith, offered this central concept: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Brown Works Inside Sac; No Budget Bully Pulpit Yet

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

You might think that Gov. Jerry Brown’s appearance tomorrow evening at a dinner hosted by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce will mark the launch of Krusty’s “outside” campaign for his proposal to put $12 billion in tax and fee extensions on the June ballot. But you’d be wrong.

Although his State of the State address was aimed as much at building broad support for his proposal as it was designed to speak directly to legislators, Team Jerry’s continued emphasis for at least the next few weeks will be on the “inside” game in Sacramento.

“He’s disciplined and focused on things that matter the most,” said his political adviser Steve Glazer. That’s the strategy for now. As another Brown ally put it, “The outside game could push the Republicans into a corner right now.”

So on Tuesday Brown met with Senate and Assembly Democrats. And he’s scheduled to meet with Senate and Assembly Republicans on Wednesday, all the while working on individual and small groups of legislators in hopes of convincing them that it’s in their interest to place his tax and fee measure on the ballot. To do that, he needs agreement from all the Democrats plus two Republicans in the Assembly and three in the Senate.

Thus far, there’s no sign any Republicans want to give him their votes, although some GOP strategists and others have suggested that in exchange for pension reform and perhaps a spending cap of some sort, Brown might wheedle that handful of votes.

One possible scenario, according to a Brown adviser, would be for the governor to continue working the Cul de Sac for a couple more weeks and see what happens when his proposal is brought to a vote in the Legislature. If it fails to pass in the first house where it’s raised, then all hell breaks loose and Republicans in marginal districts get hammered for denying their constituents basic democratic rights.

Predictably, no Republican has yet put forth a formal legislative proposal on pension reform and there’s not a lot of time to consider one if one were forthcoming.

On the other hand, you want pension reform? Just check out Brown’s own campaign web site where he advocates: stopping pension spiking and abuse, renegotiations for a two-tiered system, and end to retroactive benefit enhancements, increased employee contributions, prohibiting pension “holidays,” independent oversight of pension funds, tightening of pension investment standards and a curb on investment placement agents.

All the Republicans have to do is get Brown to agree he will see that legislation seeking all of the above gets introduced and that he’ll fight tooth-and-nail for it and they’d have a pretty good deal to swap for a vote that just gives people a chance to decide if they want to extend some taxes and fees practically nobody is even aware of.

While only about a third of Californians are aware that some taxes and fees notched up a bit a couple of years ago, even fewer have any idea how California is financed or where the money is spent. Worse, according to the most authoritative study known to humankind on the issue of peoples’ knowledge about the California budget, it doesn’t friggin’ matter.

That’s what Eric McGhee at the Public Policy Institute of California demonstrated in “How Much Does the Public Know about the State Budget, and Does It Matter?” published in the California Journal of Politics and Policy. Here’s McGhee’s depressing conclusion:

The real driver of opinion on budget items is politics, not information. Popular programs like K-12 education receive strong support among all groups of voters, and unpopular ones like prisons do not. Within this variation, Republicans and conservatives oppose taxes and spending, while liberals and Democrats are more supportive of both. None of these conclusions is especially surprising, but the contrast with the weak effect of information is important nonetheless.

Overall, the results suggest no easy way out of our current budget impasse. The public might be confused about aspects of the California budget, but they have largely committed themselves to one side or the other in the budget wars. To the extent that they break ranks—for example, Democrats opposing spending or conservatives supporting taxes—it is tied to specific issues in a way that information affects only at the margins. As much as we may hope for it, we cannot educate the public and expect a clear path toward a balanced budget to emerge from the effort.

What this suggests is that a giant teach-in about the California budget is likely to have little effect. As we have argued before, what will matter – should Brown’s proposal make the ballot – is whether the issue is framed as a tax increase or an extension of existing taxes.

Secret Battle on Pinocchio Hat; Flash Nixes Tax Vote

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Now it can be told: At a crucial point in the race for governor, an internal campaign debate among Jerry Brown’s top advisers broke out over a hard-hitting TV ad that portrayed Republican rival Meg Whitman as Pinocchio, Calbuzz has learned.

The key tactical question at stake in the behind-the-scenes political battle: Whether or not to put a little yellow Tyrolean hat with a golden feather on top of eMeg’s head in the spot.

We’re not making this up.

In a wide-ranging investigation, our Department of High-Impact Probes and Overstuffed File Cabinets ferreted out the story via a series of confidential interviews with High-Powered Political Sources.

Because of the extreme sensitivity of the matter, Calbuzz scrupulously applied Bob Woodward’s rules for wide-ranging investigations, promising our sources anonymity in exchange for their pledges of candor, with the agreement that we would tell the story in the omniscient third-person voice, with direct quotations more or less aligned with reality.

Sources gave this account:

Shortly after Labor Day, Whitman unleashed an ad with Bill Clinton hitting Brown on his most vulnerable soft spot saying he was a tax-and-spend liberal who could not be trusted. Brown compounded the problem by insulting Clinton’s proclivities at a public event. But after Brown apologized to Clinton for his loose lips, Elvis put out a statement saying the charge he’d made in the 1992 debate clip Whitman was using was in fact based on an erroneous CNN report.

Newspapers, TV and radio outlets and online sites all reported that the Whitman ad was simply not true. But eMeg stood by the ad, arguing that it was accurate. Brown’s people needed to say Whitman was lying — in the nicest possible way, of course.

No Relation to Steve Glazer

Their consensus on how to answer, suggested by adman David Doak, was a 15-second spot that pictured eMeg as Pinocchio, with her nose growing during the ad to the size of a baseball bat, as a narrator recounted some of the lies she was telling about Brown.*

The ad was quickly produced by Joe Trippi’s shop with the enthusiastic endorsement of candidate Brown (who to this day never tires of claiming credit for it, or of confronting complete strangers to demand they tell him whether they saw it during the campaign) through the use of not-very-sophisticated graphics technology that made Meg’s nose get longer and longer.

Then the trouble began.

When the media team turned in the ad, alarm bells went off in the head of campaign manager Steve Glazer. He was deeply troubled by one crucial detail: was placing the little yellow hat on Meg’s head too demeaning to her?

Demeaning?” one source who liked the ad replied to Glazer’s question. “Steve, we’re making her nose grow four feet – how could it be more demeaning than that?”

Still, when Glazer’s concern was communicated to Brown and his wife, Anne Gust, Brown’s Oakland command ordered up another version of the spot that did not have the little hat on Meg’s head.

“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” one source thought to himself.

Nonetheless, alternative versions were produced, as the difficult question – hat or no hat – continued to divide Team Brown. Finally, a coast-to-coast conference call was convened, and the issue was put directly to Brown’s most senior media strategist.

“Do you think the hat is too demeaning?” he was asked.

Long seconds passed, while the fate of the entire Brown effort – along with the future of California – hung in the balance.

“No,” the Washington-based strategist said.

The rest is history.

The ad went on the air on September 14, and Meg’s negatives kept growing and growing, not unlike her Pinocchio nose, as Brown steadily built a lead. The most astonishing thing about the story may be that the Armies of Whitman did not issue a snarky statement about the hat — practically the only thing they didn’t whine about during the entire race.

* (For the record, the ad was actually kind of a rip-off of our oft-used Pinocchio-Meg graphic, not to mention totally derivative of a stock campaign ad that goes back to at least 1988).

Redeveloping redevelopment: Tom Meyer today nails the full-on absurdity of the outrage over the governor’s move to shutter the operations of local redevelopment agencies that’s being voiced by local political hacks and real estate developers across the state.

Armed with the new PPIC poll, which shows two-thirds of Californians agree with him on the issue, Brown is playing a strong political hand, notwithstanding the heavy breathing and harrumphing by a coalition of mayors who called on him this week to protest the long overdue bid to end the redevelopment scam of skimming property tax revenues for the purpose of empire building and skid greasing for way too many sleazy projects in which oleaginous developers and greedy politicians engage in mutual back scratching in an atmosphere of soft corruption.

Latest evidence of how we’ll all manage to do just fine without redevelopment’s ’50s- and ’60s-era land use theory and practice comes in a dandy piece by Jim Miller of the Press-Enterprise.

In an impressive display of Actual Reporting, Miller checked the mandated state reports filed by a batch of agencies and found they “list few, if any, jobs created and little in the way of new construction or building rehabilitation.” Best stuff: the hemming and hawing by officials desperate to explain away the story told by the very documents they filed themselves, including this gem from John Shirey, president of the (all rise) California Redevelopment Association:

Unfortunately, those reports often get filled out by finance people because most of the report is financial,” Shirey said. “Finance people, they’re not in sales. They don’t take advantage of the chance to put down accomplishments.

“If it doesn’t get picked up by the redevelopment staff, then you see what you see, which is a lot of blanks,” he said.

So we see.

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No-diversity university: Here’s how bad the sexism was at last weekend’s big Berkeley conference on the governor’s race: Even Calbuzz noticed.

Somewhere between the first panel, featuring eight white guys, and the final panel, featuring seven white guys, we took a demographic stroll through the lineups for all of the two days of presentations. Counting panelists and moderators, here are the stats:

31 men
5 women
34 white people
2 minorities

Apparently, we weren’t alone in raising our untrimmed eyebrows at the disconnect between the conference population and that of, you know,  California. Soon after the event ended, some pretty pissed off political women started posting this video on their Facebook pages, and it’s now careening far and wide across the internets.  More from the estimable Joe Garafoli.

Flash tells why Brown’s tax measure should not be on the ballot

In response to the post on Calbuzz last week arguing that lawmakers should place on the ballot Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to extend, for five years, certain tax increases that were passed in 2009, we asked our friend Jon Fleischman, editor and publisher of the conservative FlashReport (whom we likened to a feudal yeoman), to present the other side. Here’s his argument.

The main reason why legislators should not put a tax increase measure on the ballot is that raising taxes is a bad idea, and the idea of placing a measure before voters in essence plays “kick the can” for four or five months, when problems should be addressed now.

Based on the fact that voters rejected the last seven tax-increase measures before them, and in fact rejected these exact tax increases (but for a shorter duration) in a 2009 special election, the Legislature should not be going to the public again. This is a democratic republic, and our elected representatives should do their jobs.

It is also important to look at the politics of a special election on raising taxes. The reality is that all of the various special interest groups (with the state’s cash-heavy public employee unions at the front of the line) will spend literally tens of millions of dollars to influence voters.

It will be a full-scale effort to use any means possible to connive overtaxed Californians into taxing themselves even more. Unfortunately the ability of taxpayer protection groups to raise the kinds of funds it takes to seriously debunk the landslide of misleading ads is very limited. That is why it is critical to hold the line against a ballot measure at all costs.

An additional consideration for Republican legislators is that after seven years of Arnold Schwarzenegger being the top Republican in the state (we saw some of the effects of the impact of that this last November), we need to restore the brand name of the Grand Old Party. Once a party that voters knew would oppose higher taxes, now that message is unclear. Nothing could be more damaging to a party trying to regain relevance that to abandon such a core issue.

You can be absolutely certain that a well-financed campaign for those tax increases on a special election ballot would make a huge deal over the “bi-partisan cooperation” to place the tax increase before voters. It would completely undermine the ability of the minority party to make the case for making a change in who is in charge of the Capitol.

If the left wants the public to vote on higher taxes, they can qualify a ballot measure (the unions can do that with just a fraction of their campaign funds). But at least if they go that route, it will be made clear to voters that Republicans had no part in it.

Final Thoughts on IGS 2010 Gov Race Conference

Monday, January 24th, 2011

In the end, the weekend conference on California’s just-concluded campaign for governor looked a lot like the race itself: Meg Whitman refused to talk to an audience not of her choosing, got trashed for it and ended up the biggest loser for her selfish and self-absorbed behavior.

The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies confab, held every four years, drew its largest crowd ever, an eclectic collection of media and political hacks, earnest students and academic chrome domes, professional pollsters and political wannabes, all drawn by the opportunity to hear, first-hand from the operatives who ran the campaigns, the inside story of how the deal went down.

Beyond its sheer entertainment value for an audience of obsessed political junkies, the conference in the past also served the more serious purpose of establishing a permanent record of the process by which Californians chose their chief executive, an important resource for scholars, authors and journalists. But the 2011 version was unfortunately flawed by two big shortcomings:

First, not a single member of the mighty Legions of eMeg had the courage, concern for history, not to mention common courtesy, to show his or her face; despite heroic efforts to represent the Republican perspective by top-rank GOP pols who didn’t work on the campaign (about whom more later) this left a huge hole in the record, given that Herself and Her Money, in many ways, became the story of the campaign.

Second, there was way too much spin and way too little candor by too many of those who did participate – an unfortunate departure from past years, which will leave a distorted and incomplete record of what was one of the most important campaigns in recent decades: “It just wasn’t the real story of the campaign,” one prominent political scientist complained at a post-conference reception. (Suggested reading for future scholars: this and this.)

That said, there still was value in the event, even if it was often to be found in the bar of the Hotel Shattuck Plaza and around the tables of nearby Berkeley restaurants, where war stories and unvarnished opinions were more frequently to be found. Some observations:

Most Valuable Player – The MVP of the conference was Jim Bognet, manager of Steve Poizner’s losing GOP primary effort. Funny, smart and honest, Bognet offered a sense of what it was like day-after-day to go up against a rival funded by $180 million (Meg’s spending “created its own center of gravity”) and displayed how personal the battle got between the Republicans (“never was so much spent on so many for so little”). He also provided – in the form of advice to students in the room thinking about going into politics — the best single riff of the weekend, defining the ethical rot at the center of Team Whitman that led to the most expensive disaster in the history of American politics:

When you’re getting paid a lot of money – and there were many consultants in this race that got paid a lot of money – it gives you an incentive not to speak truth to power. It gives you an incentive not to tell them what they don’t want to hear as candidates. You are more valuable as a campaign staffer and as a human being if you’re willing to say to the person who is paying your paycheck, “You are wrong. You need to talk to the press. You need to go out and answer these questions. You need to answer for why you switched your position.” It is a conflict of interest because the same person that is paying you, you have to give hard advice and talk about things, personal things that are not comfortable to talk about. So I would say, you have to fight against that continuously in order to add value to your candidate.

Least Valuable Player – The LVP of the conference was Peter Ragone, representing Gavin Newsom’s short and stunted primary bid for governor. Ragone is a nice guy and a competent operative, but his endless, obviously phony spin on behalf of the new Lite Governor had the audience groaning and looking for barf bags.

Newsom, it seems, is a politician of uncommon moral courage, motivated by only two idealistic factors – his unstinting and unselfish determination to do what is right and true and good for all the rest of us (after trashing the office of lieutenant governor, he changed his mind and ran because “he decided this was where he could the most good”) and the high moral courage that drives him to put his family above all else (no mention of him boinking the wife of his chief of staff in the mayor’s office). Self-interest never figures into it, Ragone would have us believe. Enough to make a hog puke. No matter what new UC Regent Newsom wanted, IGS should have invited Garry South and Nick Clemons, his actual gubernatorial campaign directors.

The missing characters –  The transcript of the proceedings will be turned into a book which purportedly will serve as the final word on the governor’s race. Puh-leeze. Consider this: the three most important behind-the-scenes players in the race – Brown’s wife Anne Gust, Whitman major domo Henry Gomez and top strategist Mike Murphy – didn’t figure in any of the discussions and, unless we missed it during a trip to the head or the cookie table, their names were never even mentioned. That’s like doing Hamlet without Hamlet.

Kudos to the stand-ins. While eMeg’s minions cowered in fear far away from Berkeley, former state chairmen Duf Sundheim and Bob Naylor, along with veteran strategist Jim Brulte, did a terrific job of describing the GOP perspective, their limited contacts with the candidate and her turf-conscious consultants, and how the establishment watched in horror as Whitman melted down.

“As Republicans, we were really concerned as the primary went on because since they were so close on the issues, it was really going to come down to a very nasty, personal fight,” Sundheim said. Said Naylor: “When the dust settled in the primary, the Whitman campaign was over.” And Brulte, who with his commentary reaffirmed his position as the sharpest Republican mind in the state, observed that except for Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger – celebrities who transcended politics – California voters have always wanted  an experienced hand as governor. By spending so much money on television without a break, Whitman undercut her own ability to be the next best thing, he argued. “By Labor Day, Jerry Brown, who was governor when I was in high school, was the fresh new face.”

Message trumps money – Since we’re kvetching about others for a lack of self-criticism, Calbuzz should acknowledge that our own coverage may have suffered from putting too much focus on the extraordinary spectacle of Meg’s crazed spending, which at times led us to the misassumption that she could make up for her lack of a clear and consistent winning message by throwing money at the problem.

“I never understood it,” said Democratic consultant Gale Kaufman. “Every time you turned on the TV, there were four or five tracks of (Whitman) ads that were completely different. They were switching ads all the time. You had no idea what their strategy was and never had anyone explain it to me.”  The Whitman campaign never had a compelling message, agreed consultant Rick Claussen: “Tactics is just a way to talk to voters.” You can spend all you want reaching out to voters, but if you don’t have something worth listening to, it’s a huge waste of money.

Brown was both lucky and good – In the final session of the conference, Brulte put his partisan perspective aside and offered his bottom line: Brown “ran a picture perfect campaign,” he said, a strategy built on keeping its focus on fundraising, using the office of Attorney General to keep him in the news and steering their own course no matter how much the winds emanating from Camp Whitman tried to blow them off course.

In Jim Moore, Brown had the best pollster in the race, the best ad man in Joe Trippi and the most disciplined manager in Glazer; their game plan to hold their fire until Labor Day, while many top Democrats and the political peanut gallery were hollering for them to answer eMeg’s summer assault, made all the difference. But Brown’s strategists also admitted that they benefited from missteps by eMeg. Said Glazer:

The one worry that I had when we went through that (2009) fall period into the new year was that Meg Whitman was going to use her resources to use Jerry Brown as the foil to be a stronger Republican . . . I thought that she would — even before the new year struck — that she would start to use Jerry Brown and start to raise our negatives by running against us as the presumptive Republican nominee. And I expected that all the way through until the primary day. I was very surprised that that actually never happened.

Once the primary was over, Trippi’s greatest fear was that Whitman would “go dark” over the summer, giving voters a respite from her 24/7 invasion of their living rooms and allowing her to re-emerge as a fresh face in the fall. Instead she essentially turned herself into the incumbent in a year when voters wanted change.

As Bognet had put it earlier: “She built herself a $180 million brand. Unfortunately, by the time the general came around her brand was, ‘She’s the woman with the money who won’t get off my TV.’”

Panelists also agreed that Whitman made a huge error by trying to portray Brown as a traditional tax and spend liberal, which simply misstates his record. As Republican Naylor, who served in the Assembly during Brown’s first turn as governor, put it: “Tax and spend doesn’t stick with Jerry Brown.”

Tone matters – Trippi correctly observed that the relentlessly snarky tone of Whitman’s relentless attack ads didn’t resonate with voters – “failure has followed him everywhere” he intoned — because they have a much more complex and long-running, if not always fond, relationship with him. Better for the Whitman people, Trippi said, to have been respectful to Brown by crafting a  more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger “gold watch” message, saying that he had performed valuable service to the state but adding that it was simply time for him to go, and to elect a “governor for the 21st century.”

Trying to avoid the press was a huge blunder — Speaker after speaker pointed to Whitman’s strategy of stiffing the media as a costly error for several reasons: it sent a message to voters that she thought she was too good to go through the usual hoops candidates for high office have always faced; it established a narrative that Whitman was secretive, and must have something to hide; it was a clear affront to the working press of the state, and their frustration showed up in the stories. As Poizner’s Jarrod Agen put it: “It never works to avoid the press.”

Bill Lockyer is the Diogenes of state politics — California’s treasurer was the keynote speaker of the conference and he turned in a boffo performance that provided a full-on and utterly frank look at the state of the state’s finances. Ask Lockyer what time it is and he’s liable to tell you how to make a watch, so some of his discourse on the niceties of the municipal bond market were a bit windy, but he’s smart, funny and seen it all. We’ll be running the text of his speech later this week.

Worst advice – The model for a California GOP comeback is Chris Christie in New Jersey, said Republican Tony Quinn. Sustained attacks on public employee unions and bloated government are the key to victory, he said. When Calbuzz rose to note that Whitman had done exactly that, he replied that she hadn’t done it very well.

Immigration sunk Whitman – Even before Meg’s Nicky Diaz housekeeper scandal, the immigration issue was a huge problem for Whitman. As Glazer explained, she had many liabilities on the issue even without Nicky – from shifting positions on a path to citizenship to her opposition to the Dream Act. Poizner’s hardline position in the primary forced her to move far right, which made her efforts to get back to the center in the general look pathetically calculated. When the Nicky story erupted, it merely personalized the hypocrisy and brazen opportunism of her political stances.

As Poizner’s Agen explained:

If we’d gotten into the general, it would have been a policy debate between Steve and Governor Brown on the policy issue of immigration. Jerry Brown would have had one stance on immigration, Steve would have had the other. But it would have been a policy discussion on immigration . . . What ended up happening, though, was immigration turned into a character issue and that is what ultimately hurts the Republican Party hugely is if immigration is a character issue. If it stays a policy issue, people are going to disagree with it and we felt that if you get to the general election, we’ll have it out, we’ll have that debate with Jerry on immigration, we’ll see how people, where people stand.

Best line – The strategists were asked at one point to name one thing they would have done that they didn’t do. “Telephone operational training,” said Glazer, a big laugh reference to Brown’s failure to hang up the phone when leaving a message with a law enforcement union, which led to the flap over someone in Brown headquarters (hello, Anne) referring to eMeg as a political “whore.”

Best fights – Field Pollster Mark Dicamillo ripped off the face of robopollster Jay Leve of SurveyUSA (in the nicest possible way), who responded with a furious defense of his methodology, a screed that included some whacks at Calbuzz. The Cage Match of the pollsters was only matched for excitement when Democratic operative Bob Mulholland and Tony Quinn got into a finger-pointing duel about the rules and political significance of the new “top two” primary system. Talk about don’t-invite-ems.

The new Whig party — A number of speakers at the conference strongly argued that the California Republican party is essentially dead. Brulte for one said there was no way Whitman could have won the race because of the structural and demographic political landscape of the state, while Sundheim said “Republicans, as a brand, are dead.” Speaker after speaker noted how the Republican hostility to Latinos and other minorities, coupled with tired messaging that has nothing for younger voters, has made them an isolated and marginal party of old white people. Most seemed to have read and adopted the Calbuzz Memo to CA GOP: Time to Do Something Different.

Speaking of Whigs — Sacramento consultant Ray McNally, proving that there’s not much new in American politics, read from an 1840 confidential memo written by Abraham Lincoln that laid out a complete organizing strategy for the “overthrow of the corrupt powers that now control our beloved country,” which included everything from polling and GOTV to voter contact and fundraising. Example: “3) It will also be their duty to report to you, at least once a month, the progress they are making, and on election days see that every Whig is brought to the polls.” You can read it here.

The two minds of the voters – Political scientist Kim Nalder from Sac State honed in on the most fundamental factor driving state politics today: the disconnect that voters feel between demanding high levels of service and their determination not to pay taxes. Lockyer underscored a Calbuzz report that voters think 48% of the money the state spends is wasted –  a high hurdle for Brown to overcome if he is to sell his cuts-and-taxes budget plan to fix the state’s $28 billion budget shortfall.

Deep thoughts: Thad Kousser of UC San Diego made some points that cut against the notion that California is forever blue (an argument that effectively lets the Armies of eMeg off the hook). A panel of political scientists agreed that “campaign effects” are marginal – but that marginal effects matter big time in close races, so the Whitman-Brown race could have been close – “Nothing was inevitable in this campaign.” And a note to future mega-spending candidates: “Campaigns can’t tell voters what to think, but they can tell them what to think about.”

Nice work — There were too many journalists from the LA Times on the program (although we were wrong to say two of the three didn’t cover the governor’s race: only one did not) and not enough from other major papers or news agencies. But the four who participated — Mark Barabak, Cathy Decker and Anthony York of the Times, and Timm Herdt of the Ventura County Star — did a fine job of moving the conversation along.

Calbuzz Rescues Inaugural from Crashing Boredom

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Calbuzz staff psychiatrist Dr. P.J. Hackenflack greatly enhanced his reputation as the Perle Mesta of California Monday night, as he tossed the toughest-ticket bash of Inaugural Week, featuring fine cuisine and libation, fine fellowship and the brightest stars in the state’s glittering political firmament.

In a political social whirl otherwise dominated by an event where the big payoff was a couple of dogs and a small bag of chips, Calbuzz party organizers agreed with each other that their gathering of First Amendment scumbags and rapacious consultants was by far the best shindig of the week.

Unfortunately for the good Doctor H., he missed his own soiree, after passing out cold beneath a banquet room table from rapidly throwing down 13 or 14  double Jamesons on the rocks several hours before his guests arrived.

Still, the 90 or so revelers who were actually conscious for the big party, held at fabulous Lucca restaurant (plenty of valet parking), did their best to overcome their disappointment at his absence, dining on smoked chicken risotto, chicken saltimbocca, pan roasted salmon and grilled bistro steak, consuming mass quantities of Ray Station Merlot, Kendall Jackson Chardonnay and Camelot Cabernet, and enjoying an evening utterly bereft of the tedious, mind-numbing speechifying that characterizes most such events in Sacramento.

Plus, they got a really cool credential — the type which the skinflint Brown operation provided to no one covering his big day.

Consistent with the post-post-partisan values and ethics of Calbuzz — which hold that folks of differing political persuasions are to view their rivals not as bitter enemies, but as nutty neighbors — Republican operatives like Adam Mendelsohn, Jim Brulte, Kevin Spillane, Marty Wilson, Beth Miller and Julie Soderlund (special kudos to Rob Stutzman and Mitch Zak for being the only ex-members of the GOP’s Legions of eMeg with the stones to show up) mixed and mingled with leading Democratic lights, including Tom Quinn, David Townsend, Joe Trippi, Donna Bojarsky, Jim Moore, Steve Glazer, Jason Kinney, Roger Salazar, Steve Maviglio, Karen Skelton  and Garry South (whose frequent harsh criticisms of Jerry Brown’s campaign for governor make him an intraparty marked man, matched Stutz and Zak’s raw courage in taking his place  at the festivities), while other hacks (widely suspected of  RINO tendencies by some in the Neanderthal Caucus) including Jack Flanigan, Bob Naylor, Donna Lucas and Don Sipple, added to a gemutlicht ambience of general hilarity.

Along with members of the Capitol press corps that Calbuzz actually knows (apologies to Sactown hacks we don’t know), world-class media types, including New York Times L.A. bureau chief Adam Ngourney, by-God L.A. Times sage George Skelton and national political correspondent Mark Barabak, A.P. political writers Juliet Williams and Judy Lin and KCRA-TV’s inimitable Kevin Riggs sprinkled the crowd, as Greg Lucas of “California’s Capitol,” Joel Fox of “Fox and Hounds” and Torey Van Oot of “Capitol Alert” ably represented the political blogosphere and blindingly insightful eggheads and policy makers like Dan Schnur, H.D. Palmer, Dave Lesher, Nancy McFadden and Peter Schrag raised the average I.Q. of the room at least a point or two.

Here stood newly sworn-in governor Brown, huddling with newly named Resources Secretary John Laird over matters of apparent great urgency.

There was new First Lady Anne Gust, explaining to an astonished inaugural witness how she was surprised to find out she was introducing her husband about two minutes before his swearing in.

Across the room,  almost Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom passionately held forth on the insider intricacies of San Francisco politics that have delayed his swearing in (see Agnos, Art and his five votes).

We even have a boozy recollection of overhearing Krusty and the Prince dividing up the world: Gavin focuses on economic development and UC and stays out of Jerry’s way as he tries to run the government. Such a deal.

Worried Democrats meanwhile kept an anxious eye on Brown, lest he keel over and make incumbent Lite Gov Abel Maldonado a full-term governor before Newsom takes the oath of office.

A good time was had by all, except for the aforementioned, utterly plastered Dr. H. There were no injuries.