It’s way early in spring training season in the California governor’s campaign: 442 days until next year’s June 8 primaries, to be exact. But it’s never too soon to start assessing the political talent that’s on the field.
With California facing 10.5 percent unemployment, a growing mountain of debt amid a global credit crunch and a political system in Sacramento that is way beyond dysfunctional, the people of the state simply cannot stand for candidates who try to con them with phony umbrage, personal attacks, focus-tested, superficial stances and trumped-up polarizing issues.
A couple of things we know from our own experience: A moderate –- which you have to be to win statewide –- will be bedeviled by the left-wing (for a Democrat) or the right-wing (for a Republican) of his or her party. And California can’t afford another politician who just wants to BE governor; it needs someone who wants to actually govern.
But the powers of California’s chief executive have been dramatically curtailed and constricted over the past four decades, to wit:
— A series of sweeping and often contradictory ballot measures have stunted and distorted the governor’s fiscal policy-making authority.
— The seas of red ink and billions in annual interest payments in which state government is drowning have sapped the governor’s strength in launching or sustaining new initiatives.
— Term limits have created a constant game of political musical chairs that puts top priority on partisan positioning in the Capitol. Assembly speakers are a dime a dozen and legislators have little reason to fear the governor, regardless of who he or she may be.
Given these limits as table stakes, any candidate who promises and presumes to be effective in the job not only needs the economic smarts to understand California’s financial morass, but also should possess a sure and subtle political talent for managing the wackiness and whims of 120 legislators — not to mention the stones to confront and face down entrenched unions and other special interests long used to getting their own way.
It’s a tall order for any politician, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came to Sacramento equipped with little more than easy bromides and breezy pronouncements, has learned the hard way that the day-to-day practice of politics is more art than science, and not as simple as it looks.
Whether or not anyone in the 2010 field can actually govern California in an effective and serious way, is of course, an unknown. What is known is that with the state clearly in decline at a time when the world economy is in turmoil, the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. Between now and November 2010, calbuzz will focus closely on the gubernatorial campaign and its candidates.
Today, however, we start with a set of meta political and policy questions, and some follow-ups, that we think are important.
1. Do you have a serious plan to address the structural deficit in California’s budget?
What combination of tax increases, spending cuts and borrowing do you think is required? Which taxes, which programs? What is the proper level of debt for the state to carry? If California’s debt level is too high, what are you going to do to reduce it? Does your plan have a prayer of winning support from enough of the opposition party to actually be implemented? What ideas do you have, beyond tired platitudes and knee jerk ideological sheep dip, for reclaiming control of the budget?
2. Do you have a serious plan to help create jobs in California?
How would you use the executive levers of state government to encourage and align with private business to generate economic development for green industries and building, alternative fuel sources and uses, digital, bio and nano technologies? What role should the University of California play in economic development? How important is state support of K-12 education, and what level of funding for public schools will you absolutely commit to? Should students who receive state aid to attend UCs and CSUs have a public service requirement? What is the role of the non-profit community in helping to grow the economy, and what relationship should the state have these groups?
3. What life experience do you have that proves your ability to work with a Legislature representing the breadth and depth of California?
What have you learned from watching Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger try and fail to force lawmakers to fall in line behind an agenda? What have you done that has prepared you for a job requiring an outsize ability to cajole, bully, stroke and persuade 120 raging egos who are accountable to small geopolitical units? Explain how your political skills have developed and candidly measure them against the non-stop cacophonous, complex and conflicting demands of being governor?
4. What is your plan for changing the dysfunctional structure of state government and what reforms will you fight for?
Should the state dump the two-thirds vote required to pass a budget? How about the two-thirds needed to approve tax measures? Should the standard be a 55 percent vote, or a simple majority? If you think we should keep the two-thirds standard, what is your political strategy for overcoming gridlock and getting to two-thirds? Do you think term limits have worked for California? If not how would you get rid of them? Do you support or oppose the open primary measure that will be on the June 2010 ballot?
5. Would amending Proposition 13 be on or off the table in your administration?
Do you think Prop. 13 should be amended to allow a split roll assessment system that taxes commercial property at higher rates than residential? What about the problem of neighbors with similar houses who pay wildly different tax bills because of when they bought their homes? Do you think this inequity should be addressed or not? If he or she is not willing to advocate a change, what significant income source can the candidate point to that will even begin to generate enough income to meet the state’s needs?
6. What actions, or inactions, do you propose to take on polarizing hot button issues?
How will you use the power and influence of the governor’s office to affect same sex marriage, abortion rights, offshore oil drilling and illegal immigrations, including the questions of drivers’ licenses, publicly financed health and education for undocumented workers and their families?
7. What kind of administration will you run in regards to special interests and the media, and what values and qualities will you seek in assembling a staff and making appointments?
How will you relate to the media and voters in terms of transparency, open government laws and documents? In your professional life, have you been open and accessible or closed, protected and isolated? Explain your past associations and future intentions regarding the California Teachers Association, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the Business Roundtable, the California Chamber of Commerce and other big interests in the Capitol? Who do you consult with and listen to? Why should voters trust these people in and around the Horseshoe?
Let us know what you think of these questions, and send us your suggestions for others the candidates should be required to answer.
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