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Posts Tagged ‘top-two primary’



D.C. and Sacto: A Tale of Two Political Universes

Monday, April 11th, 2011

After speaking in Los Alamitos last weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown labeled as “pathetic” the last-minute deal on the federal budget that averted a government shutdown.

“You’re not the superpower of the world if you have to stay up half the night trying to make a few decisions over a fraction of your budget,” Brown said.

Krusty the Governor should know from pathetic: he’s surrounded by it in Sacramento. That’s not to mention what seems to have been his own feckless attempts to quietly persuade a handful of Republicans to do what they have no inclination to do: give voters the right to decide whether to extend some taxes instead of slashing another $15.4 billion from the California budget.

So now Brown is on a belated bully-pulpit tour of California, hoping to build pressure on Republicans to make a reasonable deal on the budget. “You got to wear people down,” Brown told reporters. “You have to persuade them, and you have to go out to as many parts of California to create the mood, the momentum, and the environment where people are ready to face the music.”

But even Gov. Gandalf now admits he’s facing dark forces that may be too strong for his wizardry.

“Getting some of these Republicans to let the people vote for taxes or cuts is like asking the pope to let Catholics vote on abortion,” he said. “Highly unlikely.”

Passive aggressive behavior: In Washington, House Republicans – who were in danger of over-reading their “mandate” – and Senate Democrats – who were in danger of placing their genitals in a mason jar – finally made a deal because not making a deal was seen by both sides as too politically perilous.

How that’s different from Sacramento is this: In Washington, the party leaders in Congress can actually make a deal because a) they want to, and b) they have the power.

In Sacramento, not only do the passive aggressive Republicans have no incentive to allow a vote on taxes – since the 2/3-vote requirement on taxes allows them to accomplish their goal by sitting on their hands – but their leaders have no power to make a deal.

This is something Calbuzz has hammered on for some time. As we explained back in July 2009:

The governor and the Legislature fulminate and flounder simply because no one in the Capitol in 2009 has the stature, clout or influence to cut a deal like Ronnie and Jesse or Pete and Willie once did.

Strip away all the policy wonkery, weed whacking and egghead analysis  and you find that a combination of term limits and politically-safe, gerrymandered legislative seats has created a political atmosphere in which every legislator is an army of one – and none of them fears the governor, the speaker or any other leader in the Legislature.

For the moment, the Democratic leaders appear to have a bit more sway over their members than the Republican leadership. But that too may disintegrate if Brown’s terms for a deal include a spending cap or pension reforms that the jefes in the California Teachers Association, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association or Service Employees International Union don’t find acceptable.

Reapportionment and the top-two election system may mitigate the wing-nut intransigence of Sacramento in coming years – perhaps replenishing the Legislature with lawmakers who don’t believe compromise is capitulation. But until term limits are eliminated, leadership will remain a huge impediment to deal-making in the public interest.

Talking to reporters on Saturday, Brown also argued that President Obama faced “the same problem I do, only worse.” He likened the need for supermajorities to overcome filibusters in the U.S. Senate to the Legislative votes needed to raise taxes in California.

Caving in to bullies: But there is a more important way in which Sacramento and Washington are alike, as outlined in a compelling essay by Robert Reich, professor of public policy at UC Berkeley and former secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.

“The right-wing bullies are emboldened. They will hold the nation hostage again and again,” he wrote the other day, urging Obama and the Democrats to take a stand.

All the while, he and the Democratic leadership in Congress refuse to refute the Republicans’ big lie – that spending cuts will lead to more jobs. In fact, spending cuts now will lead to fewer jobs. They’ll slow down an already-anemic recovery. That will cause immense and unnecessary suffering for millions of Americans.

The President continues to legitimize the Republican claim that too much government spending caused the economy to tank, and that by cutting back spending we’ll get the economy going again.

Even before the bullies began hammering him his deficit commission already recommended $3 of spending cuts for every dollar of tax increase. Then the President froze non-defense domestic spending and froze federal pay. And he continues to draw the false analogy between a family’s budget and the national budget.

He is losing the war of ideas because he won’t tell the American public the truth: That we need more government spending now – not less – in order to get out of the gravitational pull of the Great Recession.

Likewise, Democrats in Sacramento – including Gov. Brown – seem to have conceded the argument that public employee pensions, extravagant state spending on social services, over-regulation and over-taxation are the causes of California’s deficit. All of which is simply not supported by the facts.

Bottom line: Jerry Brown won a huge mandate in large part because he said he would bring order to the chaos in Sacramento and that he would not raise taxes without a vote of the people. He did not win by promising to slash teachers’ pensions, eviscerate environmental regulation or cut taxes on rich people.

In Washington, the Republicans – now talking about eliminating Medicare — are overinterpreting their electoral mandate, as analyst Charlie Cook has noted.

But the Republicans in California have no such mandate to misread: what they have is the power of a minority veto in the Legislature. Still, they seem to think they’ve got the voters on their side; Brown and the Democrats need to  disabuse them.

But please, spare us the White House’s obnoxious new mantra — “winning the future.”

Convention Wrap: CA GOP Seems Headed for the Cliff

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Like a herd of wooly mammoths at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, the California Republican Party is on the verge of extinction.

It may still recover. The CRP has come back from near death before. And redistricting, alongside the top-two primary system may yet revive it. But judging from the infighting, narrow thinking and rigid ideological positioning on display at the party’s organizing convention last weekend in Sacramento, the signs are not good.

As former GOP Assembly leader Bob Naylor put it succinctly Sunday morning, “It’s on life support.”

The party did pull back on some issues that would have help drive it off a cliff. And there’s a new chairman — Tom Del Baccaro, a bright, attractive fresh voice who hopes to connect with a broader range of voters than the 20% to which the GOP usually speaks.

“We have a message problem, folks,” Del Beccaro told delegates. “Quite frankly, we have trapped ourselves into talking to the converted instead of inspiring a new generation of voters.”

Which, of course is true, but not to the point. The GOP’s fundamental problem is that the content of their message on too many key issues is simply unacceptable to the vast swath of moderate California voters.

Moreover, the mass message his party seemed to endorse at the weekend organizing convention essentially was: “Love Us or Leave Us.”

“We’re just a party of narrow ‘no,’” said conservative radio talk show host (and fellow Buckeye) Eric Hogue, who, along with the rest of the news media was only allowed to attend the noon keynote speech after reporters angrily protested. “The California Republican Party is on its way to becoming the third party in California, behind Decline to State,” said Hogue, whose rants from the right sometimes would make Attila blush.

“They’re very set in their ways,” said a 29-year-old Latino delegate from the Inland Empire who was afraid to let his name be used. “They say, ‘That’s the way it’s always been,’ whether it’s on immigration or the environment or marriage,” said the U.C. Davis graduate whose grandfather came to California as a bracero.

In short, the CRP shows no signs of intending to adopt the pragmatic  and doable five-point plan Calbuzz laid out back in November for the Revival of the California Republican Party.

The troglodyte wing of the party – the California Republican Assembly – withdrew its resolution to censure, denounce, expel and castrate any legislator who votes to put Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax extensions on the ballot. But as CRA president Celeste Greig herself noted – the point was made: this is a pup tent party.

And despite much drama and name-calling, the party adopted a rule for endorsements that essentially respects the top-two primary system until 2014, when they intend to run a vote-by-mail primary for Republicans. Of course, that was after state Sen. Sam Blakeslee (the only one of the five GOP senators who are negotiating with Brown to attend the convention) was verbally bitch-slapped at a Rules Committee meeting (of course he did accuse the other side on the endorsement issue of “thuggery”).

There was a lot of lip service from party leaders to “reaching out” to Latino voters, but not even a suggestion of moving toward creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants – the sine qua non for Mexican-Americans in California. The prevailing attitude at the convention seemed to be the Republicans lost every major statewide race and have been reduced to a strident minority because Republican candidates were too weak on conservative principles and besides,  people are lazy and stupid.

This was nicely summed up by Karen Klinger, a delegate from Sacramento, who declaimed, “We need Republicans with balls . . . People don’t know who their party is any more.” Voters don’t align with the GOP these days because “people automatically want to be subsidized . . . (but) Republicans stand for hard work.”

CRP members cheered John Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, who said he is “considering” running for president and who, after calling President Obama’s foreign policy “pathetic,” said he’d have unilaterally attacked Libya.

They also were smitten with Fox News fake pollster Frank Luntz, who advised a party that is reviled by Latinos to reward immigrants who came here legally and punish those who came her illegally. Don’t ever vote for tax increases — ever — Luntz advised (contrary to those pinko former governors like Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson.)

And they delighted in the message from Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour who demanded someone should explain to him “How do businesses thrive and hire when government is sucking up all the money?” (Pithy note on Gov. Barbour from GOP wiseman Allan Hoffenblum: “How likely is it that the governor of Mississippi is going to defeat the first black president of the United States?”)

Over and over, the Republicans talked about the “opportunities” they face but nowhere was there an attempt to address some of the, um, facts, provided to Calbuzz  by troublemaker Bob Mulholland, the former political director of the California Democratic Party:

– There are 7,569,581 registered Democrats (44%) and 5,307,411 registered Republicans, (31%). This is the lowest GOP percentage in the history of California.

– Democrats hold 123 of the 187 partisan seats in California (66%).

– Democrats won all nine statewide races last November and now hold all 10 state offices (including both U.S. Senate seats). Since 1988, Democrats have won all five presidential races and all eight U.S. Senate races.

– President Obama won California by 24 points (61% to 37%) or by 3,262,692 votes.

– Democrats hold 34 of 53 House seats; 52 of 80 Assembly seats and 25 of 40 State Senate seats.

To this, we might note, there are also 3,507,119 DTS voters (Decline To State a party) (20%) – double the percentage from 1994. Polling and voting data find that these voters — by and large — think and act more like Democrats than Republicans on electoral issues most of the time.

It’s not as if ideas aren’t available to the GOP to maintain its principles but make itself less odious to Latinos and moderates. Consultant Patrick Dorinson, the former communications director for the party who calls himself the “cowboy libertarian,” for example, said “what scares these folks is that if all those immigrants become citizens, they’re going to vote (for Democrats).”

So, he suggested, the party could adopt a stand supporting the notion that any illegal immigrant who wants to vote as a citizen would have to go back to Mexico and come back legally, but those who just want to stay and work could become permanent legal residents, without the right to vote.

Delegate Michelle Connor of Solano, 33, had another idea: “If you go into the armed forces and you’re willing to die for your country, you should be able to become a citizen. Or if you graduate from college and pass your citizenship test.”

Right now, we suspect, the first response a lot of party Republicans would have to such ideas would be: “What would John and Ken say?”

Quiet conversations with several Republicans confirmed what GOP finance chairman Jeff Miller was saying: that donors “think the party is on the brink of irrelevance . . . They think the party focuses most of its time speaking to 30% of the state rather than the majority of the state . . . (donors are watching to see if) we’re going to continue to focus on eating our own, as opposed to focusing on electing more Republicans.”

Or as Dorinson put it: “Only a buzzard feeds on its friends.”

Convention Notes

An accounting from our advancer:

1. As noted above, the cave people did not exactly win since they withdrew their resolution to rub out anyone who helps put a tax extension measure on the ballot. But if getting publicity for their tiny strike team of reactionaries was the goal, they triumphed handily.

2. The GOP 5 couldn’t be tarred and feathered because only one showed up and while he didn’t get the medieval treatment, he was accused of  “selling us out on taxes” and made to understand that should he ever wander out of his district, the right wing will jump his ass.

3. Sutter Brown and Grover the Norquist did not make appearances but there was plenty of doggy doo and more than a few delegates stepped in it.

4. The Stalinistas failed to pass their plan to give a cadre of party purists the authority to anoint candidates in the top-two primary system.  U.S. Rep Kevin McCarthy and others put the squeeze on to keep the party — as he said at Saturday night’s dinner — from bringing back the back room.

5. Comrade Jon “Josef” Fleischman, who was working the hallways, salons and bars like a cheap hooker, never bought one lousy drink for any reporter that we’re aware of, despite the fact that the news media have literally made his name a household word.

Other notes: Chairman Del Baccaro, who is young and good looking, was literally mobbed by GOP women Saturday night at his reception where he signed baseballs. Why did he sign baseballs when he never played hardball? “It’s the team thing,” he told Calbuzz, which got its own autographed ball.

Certain numbnuts in the party tried twice — at the Rules Committee meeting on Friday and the Saturday luncheon with Fox Poll Clown Frank Luntz — to keep reporters out. That is so stupid. First, too many of us would just sit there and demand to be arrested and why do you want to make it look like you’re doing secret business?

Somebody at the L.A. Times needs to lighten up a bit and let poor Seema Mehta and Maeve Reston skip boring, unremarkable speeches and meetings when Calbuzz party time is happening. Same for B people re. Torey “Don’t Call Me Tulip” Van Oot. We spent time on the road with some of their bosses and they never missed trial fun for crapchurn.

He will be missed: Sadly, Doug McNea, 64, of San Jose, collapsed while dancing and died at Kevin McCarthy’s party Saturday night. Our condolences to friends and family of the longtime leader of the  Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association.

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.”