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Posts Tagged ‘Sunny Jim Rolph’



Five Questions with Merv Field

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Mervin Field is the pioneering founder of the Field Poll, an independent, nonpartisan, public opinion survey that has tracked every state election in California since 1948. The man insiders call “The Swami” kindly took time to answer some Calbuzz questions.

Calbuzz: What do you make of Jerry Brown’s effort to become the first guy to be elected governor again, when he’s twice as old as the first time he won?

Merv Field: Jerry Brown is reasonably well positioned to be elected governor in 2010. If Dianne Feinstein does not run, then Brown and Antonio Villaraigosa move up in position. I think then that the chances for either winning the nomination is 50-50. Newsom’s odds improve but are still relatively long.

Brown wears his age well. As a campaigner he doesn’t look much different than when he first ran for office in 1968. He certainly will not appear to be an old codger trying to win back his old job. The negatives he acquired as governor (1975-1982) will be issues in the campaign among old-timers and perhaps some of the newer voters. However, I can see him campaigning this way:

“I was first elected governor when I was 36. I accomplished a lot of things (also admitting to some failures). I have learned a lot since then — being a mayor, AG, etc. I have witnessed all the changes, been active in dealing with them and am now uniquely equipped to deal with the huge problems facing the state.”

CB: What’s with the Curse of Sunny Jim Rolph? Why do mayors have such a hard time getting elected governor, and what does it portend for Gavin Newsom and Villaraigosa?

MF: There were different conditions in each of the unsuccessful gubernatorial candidacies in California of former mayors of big cities, along with some similarities. Their tenures as mayors split their constituencies. Dealing with local problems gets more attention locally, where failures are well reported, then resurrected when running for governor. Local problems have inordinate effects on voters. Mayors, not governors, deal with potholes.

Also, as far as S.F. and L.A. are concerned, voters in either place don’t identify with the other. There has been and still exists a somewhat ill-defined rivalry — if not animosity — between residents of the two cities. Plus, there’s animosity between residents of the big cities and adjacent cities and suburbs. Both Villaraigosa and Newsom will face this problem.

CB: With their huge personal wealth, do Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner have an overwhelming advantage in the governor’s race?

MF: Money will help in getting attention, but it is problematic whether the reaction of the voters will be positive. Wealthy candidates without accomplishments in government feed the desire of voters to know more about them. They also invite a lot of scrutiny from the press digging into their lives. The negative media play about wealthy, new-to-the-public candidates, from former business associates, ex-spouses, school friends, etc. has a great and lasting effect on voter opinions during a relatively short campaign.

Whitman presumably has to run on the basis of being a successful business person (or personality) ready to straighten out the mess in Sacramento. But I don’t think that message will have as much resonance as it did in 2003 when Arnold used it successfully. And like Al Checchi and Bill Simon earlier — it may also have some repellent aspects in 2010.

I don’t know about Poizner. He just got elected Insurance Commissioner in 2006, so he has not yet made a mark in public office. By next year, he probably still will be viewed essentially as a successful high-tech entrepreneur. If the GOP continues to be fractured, that’s not going to help. If the primary consists of expensive personal attack ads then the winner’s chances in November are diminished.

Any credibility that successful business people might have had as competent leaders has been collapsed with the news about Detroit automakers, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Wall Street, banks, etc.

CB: Tom Campbell is arguably the most qualified Republican who’s not bloody likely to win his party’s nomination for governor. Do you see anything on the political horizon that will enable moderate Republicans to become competitive again?

MF: I don’t see a moderate like Campbell getting the GOP nomination. It’s going to take a long time before moderate Republicans can be competitive again in California. The proportion of Republican voters has been steadily declining statewide for some time, and the public has become less inclined to react positively to messages of the national and state GOP parties. Republicans can still elect office holders in gerrymandered districts but not regularly beyond that.

The chances of moderate Republicans becoming more potent may occur if the promised reapportionment reform comes into being. The proving ground for moderate GOP candidates aiming for higher office will become more fruitful if they can start and get elected in legislative districts that are more evenly balanced.

CB: Imagine the unthinkable: that Calbuzz got it wrong and Dianne Feinstein does run for governor. Do you think she would be as formidable as the polls make her out, or would the liberal netroots questions about her husband’s finances and her long absence from state politics combine to make her campaign strongest on the day she declared?

MF: If Feinstein runs she would face the problems you list. I agree with your inference that she would be at the peak of her popularity when she announces her candidacy. But if she announces before the other Democrats get too far in their campaigns I think she would still win the nomination. If she doesn’t have to face an inordinately scathing primary, she would be quite formidable against either Whitman or Poizner, with the odds in her favor.

If Feinstein really has her heart in running and being elected governor, her life-long desire, she would have to be considered the favorite in winning the Democratic nomination. However, I am beginning to be one of those political bystanders who believes that she won’t run. She’ll be 77 in 2010. Based on my perception of how voters perceive the strengths and weaknesses of a candidate, that age would be a handicap for a man running for high office and a larger handicap for a woman.

Newsom: San Francisco Values an "Advantage" in Governor’s Race

Thursday, March 19th, 2009


San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom not only has to beat a batch of better-known rivals in the Democratic primary for governor, but also must overcome the Curse of Sunny Jim.

James “Sunny Jim” Rolph, Jr. was the last person who served as mayor of that city to be elected governor of California. The longest-serving mayor in San Francisco history — 1912-1930 -– Rolph was also the last sitting S.F. alcalde to be governor.

Since he died in office in 1934, three other big-name mayors of the town tried and failed to duplicate the feat:

Joe Alioto’s 1974 effort was skunked by Jerry Brown (who liked the experience so much he’s trying it again 35 years later).

George Christopher, the last Republican to be S.F. mayor, couldn’t overcome some guy named Reagan in the 1966 GOP primary (Christopher also has the footnote distinction of running for lieutenant governor in 1962, when Richard Nixon was humiliated by Jerry’s dad in the governor’s race and promised – falsely – that we wouldn’t have him to kick around anymore).

And Dianne Feinstein, the Hamlette of the 2010 governor’s race, got tripped up in 1990, three years out of the mayor’s office, when Pete Wilson’s mean machine used her San Francisco-centric words and deeds on issues like affirmative action, illegal immigration and gay rights to run over her.

Now Newsom, who’s best known for being the state’s most visible advocate for gay marriage – “whether you like it or not,” as he famously crowed in the best pro-Proposition 8 ad of that winning campaign last year – thinks his San Francisco connection will give him a boost in the campaign for governor.

In a recent interview, we posed this question to Newsom: How will you overcome the negative associations many Californians have about your city and San Francisco values?

“It’s an advantage right now,” Newsom replied. “We’re outperforming the rest of the state in many ways –- we have fewer job losses, we have a budget reserve, our bond rating was upgraded, we’ve passed universal health care, which is a top-of-mind issue –- these are all rather transcendent issues right now.”

As for gay marriage, Newsom told us that the weight of the recession and economic decline have made the polarized issue of same-sex unions a second-tier concern. “People…have moved on,” he said. Uh, except for that whole Prop. 8, Supreme Court thing.

Before a town hall event this week in Santa Barbara, calbuzz’s World Marketing Headquarters, Newsom said that as governor he would:

– Fight to change the two-thirds vote requirements for passing a budget and raising taxes in the Legislature, to end the GOP’s minority veto. Government by Twitter: Newsom said he had favored a 55-percent requirement, but a recent “firestorm” of comments to his Twitter account convinced him to rethink a 50-percent-plus-one standard.

– Consider an amendment to Proposition 13 establishing a split roll property tax assessment system, relaxing limits on annual increases for commercial real estate while leaving intact restrictions on residential property raises, a change that would generate billions for government. Prop. 13 long has been the third rail of California politics, but Newsom said that voters he has met “want that to be on the table.”

– Rule out future increases in state income tax rates, but might support a plan to “modernize” the state sales tax, lowering the rate but extending it beyond sales of goods to a range of services.

– Oppose any expansion of offshore oil drilling in California. Newsom said he was “disappointed that Obama changed his position on that.”

– Support efforts, as a matter of public safety, to permit illegal immigrants to have drivers’ licenses. Newsom pointed with pride to a widely inclusive system for public identity cards in San Francisco, calling it “a national model.”