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Archive for January 2010

Arnold Puffs . . . and Huffs on Obama, Jerry

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Here’s one reason the New York Times’ decision to move to a paid model for its Web site is a loss for political junkies: you won’t get to see fun reads like this one, an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The interview is actually a column by Maureen Dowd, but it’s as much Arnold riffing on the current state of politics as it is Mo Dowd doing some actual insightful writing.

Dowd’s hook: what does Arnold think, now that Uncle Ted’s Senate seat has been lost to the tea-baggers?

Arnold: not blowing smoke

As always, the Governator doesn’t disappoint.

He says President Obama erred by letting Congress drive the healthcare debate.

Democrats, meanwhile, are “in a major panic mode” and “going in the dead bed”.

He compares Obama’s last-minute campaign visit to Massachusetts to the Dems’ efforts to defeat the 2003 recall by trotting out Bill Clinton and other Democratic big-hitters.

No personal shots — like a comment on the President’s skinny legs — but the stogie-puffing guv doesn’t hide his deep dislike of Obamacare in a screen of smoke. 

And Arnold saves the best for last, for the hometown audience.

When asked if he’d be upset if a Democrat replaced him next January, he replies: “I think the best person should win, whatever party that it.” Good news for Jerry Brown. Gotta irritate Meg Whitman.

And so goes the Governator’s dance of the seven veils: will he formally endorse a would-be successor . . . in doing so, will he cross party lines?

One angle that Ms. Dowd didn’t play up, and I thought she should have: Obama, in 2010, is little different from Schwarzenegger in 2005 (the bloom is off the rose, the loyal opposition is energized, the bug guy’s core competency is being questioned); California, in 2010, is where America end up in 2016 (dealing with the disappointment of a supposedly transformative leader who didn’t live up to the media hype).  

That was my take, last year, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed discussing how Schwarzenegger didn’t alter the political landscape (now, what seems the same fate for Barack Obama).

Written by Bill Whalen

January 25, 2010 at 8:15 pm

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Feinstein’s Run: The Story That Won’t Di(Fi)

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It just wouldn’t be a new week of California politics without a little buzz over a possible Dianne Feinstein run for governor.

DiFi" "I am not a . . . candidate?"

Nothing terribly exciting here, just a quick weekend post on pointing out that Senator DiFi actually has weaker numbers than the only Democrat in the race, Attorney General Jerry Brown, when hypothetically matched up against the Republican contenders for governor.

Ok, not all that weaker — but a minor surprise nonetheless given that Feinstein is generally considered to be the only candidate who could jump into the race, at this late point, and possible deny Brown the party’s nomination.

And that’s the key word: late. As in, getting very late in the game to get into the race and beat Jerry to the finish line.

The numbers:

Feinstein 43%, Meg Whitman 42% 

Feinstein 43%, Steve Poizner 39%

Brown 43%, Whitman 39%

Brown 45%, Poizner 35%

If you’re in California, and would rather stay indoors than go outside and dodge the raindrops, here’s a more complete look at the polls numbers, courtesy of Rasmussen Reports.

Check out the January-September comparison to see which, if any, of the candidates are on an upward slope.

Written by Bill Whalen

January 25, 2010 at 7:23 pm

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Campbell Makes It Official: Winners & Losers

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And now it’s official: Tom Campbell has left the Republican gubernatorial primary and thrown his hat into the race to face Barbara Boxer. 

Here’s a video Team Campbell sent to supporters earlier this morning. 

It’s pretty clear that Campbell, a former House member from the San Jose area twice rated the most frugal man in Congress by the National Taxpayers’ Union Foundation, wants to make “spendthrift” the buzzword in this contest. Or so he told his fan base: 

“I initially made the decision to run for Governor because I believe that my level of record of public service (especially on the state budget), and my willingness to present specific, pragmatic solutions to our most pressing problems would enable me to help chart a better course for our state.” 

“Every day brings more evidence of the need for fiscal restraint in Washington, and the huge danger to our country from printing money. Truly, in my lifetime, I have never seen the growth of federal government spending more out of control. The consequences will be both inflation in the very near future, affecting us all, but retirees especially, and a tremendous burden on the next generation that will have to pay back what has been borrowed. The federal deficit has more than tripled in a single year. That’s suicidal for our country.” 

And, finally, this dig at Dame Barbara. 

“You won’t have to wonder what I’ll be like when I get to Congress. I’ve been in Congress. So has Senator Boxer. One of us spent money your kids haven’t earned yet. One of us did not.” 

We won’t know the true effect of Campbell’s shift until we see some actual poll numbers. In the meantime, I’d like a suggest a few winners and losers. 

Winner: Carly Fiorina’s Fundraisers. With a second perceived Silicon Valley moderate in the race (Fiorina doesn’t care for the label, but the media continue to affix it to her), the former HP CEO will need serious money in a hurry to mount the kind of media campaign that will gain her separation from her two more cash-strapped opponents. What better news for fundraisers, who get a cut of the $$ they bring into a campaign? 

Loser: Tom Campbell’s Sterling Reputation. To know Tom Campbell is to appreciate one of the true honest gentlemen in politics. He always says what he means, and means what he says. While respecting Campbell’s desire to serve California, there’s something about the switch that’s just a little . . . well, political. If excessive government spending is what ails us, why not run instead for State Controller, where Campbell could have brough real fiscal change to Sacramento? 

Winner: Steve Poizner’s Strategy. Going negative against an opponent is a risky proposition when there’s a third candidate in the race. Voters turned off by negative back-and-forths between two rivals can easily opt for the one non-mudslinger. It’s what got Gray Davis through the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1998. Without Campbell lurking around as a potential beneficiary in a Republican pie-fight, the choice should be easier for Team Poizner to begin the attack on GOP frontrunner Meg Whitman. 

Loser: Smug Pundits.  Any genius can predict the winner in a two-person race. It’s called flipping a coin. A three-candidate race is a different animal. Do Campbell and Fiorina split centrist votes? Or does Campbell cut into Chuck DeVore’s base of tea-bagging anti-stimulus conservatives and libertarians? Let’s wait until we have some poll numbers to crunch – tat, and how the candidates interact at their debates.  

The Flying Dutchman


Barbara Boxer.  Duh. She’s sitting on a $6 million war chest and, theoretically at least, won’t have to spend a dime of it trying to take on her GOP rivals (as Gray Davis did in 2002, targeting Richard Riordan) if they’re caught up in an intramural squabble. It’s the Napoloeonic theory of primaries: don’t engage on the other side if the other side is in the process of destroying itself. Boxer is the Flying Dutchman of California politics — a Washington-based ghost ship that returns to California every six years. Yet, somehow, it’s always a course to victory. 

Loser: Fixing California’s Budget. It’s easy to imagine a Governor Campbell going to the mattresses to bring some common-sense reform to how the state spends its money — even it cost him a second term on office. That likely won’t happen now. 

Written by Bill Whalen

January 14, 2010 at 6:51 pm

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In Cash-Starved California, Green Is the New Black

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From this morning’s San Bernardino Sun, an interesting claim that legalizing undocumented immigrants would be a boost to California’s economy.

The claim isn’t the Sun’s actually, but the work of USC’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, which figures that the Golden State eventually could reap up to $16 billion if an estimated 12 million illegal aliens were brought into the mainstream (Social Security and Medicare contributions, plus higher income figured into the calculation).

Here’s a link to the report.

The argument isn’t a familiar one, but the timing is worth noting.

1) On the national level, the White House is making noise about an immigration reform push once the dust settles from the Obamacare debate.

Yes, Governor Schwarzenegger also is talking about illegal immigration – and wouldn’t it be a clever move if Arnold sided with the Obama Administration and put some pressure on the Republicans in Congress . . . provided the feds send a multibillion-dollar reimbursement check to Sacramento.

The odds of that happening: slim to none.

2) Back in California, it’s another example of green being the new “black” — that is, politicians and policymakers using promises of enhanced revenue as a means of breathing new life into a controversial ideas.

To wit:

1) Marijuana legalization, approved yesterday by a State Assembly Committee in a 4-3 vote, no longer is merely a discussion about the leafy green as a harmless vice or a gateway to more lethal drugs.

The new spin: slap on a $50 tax for each ounce sold to adults, and California stands to gain $1.3 billion.

You can expect more such talk as the bill makes its way through the Legislature, and a ballot measure comes up for consideration.

2) Offshore oil drilling no longer is limited to talk about energy independence or cutting off cash to terrorists.

Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, promotes the idea of new oil leases in California waters as a gateway to $16 billion — or, as DeVore says, “enough to fill more than three-quarters” of the state’s current budget deficit.

Schwarzenegger also talks oil cash. His spin: use the $$ to keep state parks open.

Oddly enough, one issue that’s not a part of the new green dialogue: same-sex marriage.

Last year, the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute predicted a $700 million  boost to California’s wedding industry and $65 million for the state’s coffers from the new wave of ceremonies in the summer of 2008.

There’s nothing wrong with selling that or other ideas on their economic merits. But it does remind me of the old adage about the definition of a cynic: someone who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Written by Bill Whalen

January 13, 2010 at 6:54 pm

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Rue Brittania: UK Ranks America’s Ideologues

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As far as British journalism is concerned, there’s much to admire about the Telegraph UK newsgroup. Personally, I have a link to its obituary page on my list of favorites — beautifully written biographies and, for a military history buff like myself, lots of wonderful stories about Britain’s WWII generation.

Less admirable is the paper’s decision to take another run at ranking America’s top-100 liberals and conservatives.

The Telegraph did the same before the 2008 presidential election. Let’s just say, now as then, the view from across the “pond” could benefit from a little lens-cleaning.

Bill Clinton . . . Mr. Liberal?

For example, back in October 2007 Rudy Giuliani was the number-one conservative; Rush Limbaugh ranked fifth, one spot behind Newt Gingrich. On the left, the top dog was Bill Clinton — he of the triangulating presidency (NAFTA, welfare reform, defense of marriage). Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s controversial campaign guru, ranked third — two ahead of Barack Obama.

The Telegraph just published nos. 81-100 on both sides. Let the second-guessing  begin. Jesse Jackson is a mere 97th. I’d argue he has far more clout than no. 84: disgraced former NY Gov. Eliot Spitzer (sure, Spitzer may mount a comeback, but an unhappy Jackson could cause Obama headaches in 2012).

On the right, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, hardly a paragon of conservatism, weighs in at no. 93.  His challenger for Florida’s hotly contested GOP Senate primary – state lawmaker Marco Rubio — is no. 81. Still other “conservatives” — no. 98 Mike Murphy and no. 85 Bill O’Reilly — probably would rather be known as libertarians.

I think the no. 1 choices on both sides are pretty obvious: Obama and Limbaugh.  Care to guess the two top-fives?

Written by Bill Whalen

January 11, 2010 at 7:17 pm

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A California Tax Fix?

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If you’re more interested in the how’s than the why’s of California tax reform — specifically, how altering the state’s tax codes can reduce California’s federal tax burden – then I suggest you check out this opinion piece by economists Andrew Chang and Justin Adams.

Here’s the thrust of their argument:

1) The concept is simple: If the state collects taxes in corporate or personal income tax, Californians can deduct it from their federal taxes; if the state collects taxes in the form of sales tax, individuals cannot deduct it from their federal taxes. By subsuming the amount currently collected in state sales tax into either a state income or corporate tax, the state would increase its tax withholdings to Washington.                    

 2) Let’s say that you make $100,000 per year. Let’s further assume that you pay about $20,000 in state income tax and about $10,000 in state sales tax every year. Under the present system, you would only be allowed to deduct $20,000 from your federal income tax. However, if you subsumed the sales tax into the personal income tax, then you would be able to deduct $30,000.                    
3)   There are different ways to structure such a new tax. For example, we can make the revenue stream less volatile as well as reduce the tax burden for the lowest income earners simultaneously.
BTW, Chang and Adams, who run a Sacramento consulting firm and have worked for Governors Schwarzenegger and Wilson, estimate that the direct benefit to the California taxpayer would amount to about $5 billion per year — and support the creation of 64,000 new jobs.   

Not too shabby.

Written by Bill Whalen

January 11, 2010 at 5:58 pm

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Mad Money for California: Annex Nevada, Bankroll Cameron, etc.

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Shameless self-promotion alert!!!

I have an op-ed in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, suggesting some “creative” ways for California to raise some badly needed revenue.

All we have to do is:

 snag part of Nevada to cash in on those brothels and casinos . . .

 . . . stage a phony war with the U.S. lose, then score some foreign aid . . .

 . . . invest in a few Jim Cameron films, and so on.

It’s all in jest. Who said we can’t find a little humor amidst this grim fiscal outlook?

Written by Bill Whalen

January 10, 2010 at 8:35 am

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Campbell Senate Switch-a-roo. Is It Soup Yet?

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Two California political stories that won’t go away: will any Democrat try to get between Jerry Brown and his party’s nomination for governor? On the Republican side, will Tom Campbell leave the gubernatorial contest for greener pastures on the Senate side of the June ballot?

Tom Campbell

It wouldn’t be Campbell’s first try for “the world’s most deliberative body”.

He challenged Dianne Feinstein in 2000, as the GOP nominee. Eight years before that, he finished second in a three-man primary.

If Campbell does make the switch, that Senate race could look like déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra once surmised, by taking on the same odd dynamics as the aforementioned 1992 contest.

That year, the moderate Campbell found himself in an increasingly bitter contest with conservative Bruce Herschensohn. All sorts of ugly accusations surfaced: Herschensohn was a tool of the White House (fightin’ words, since the Bush-Quayle re-elect had publicly blown off the Golden State); Campbell intended to wipe away the Orange County power structure as it then existed.

Further complicating matters: the surprise candidacy of political neophyte Sonny Bono. The punditry laughed him off, but Bono connected with voters in ways the intelligentsia never expected (sounds like the early days of Arnold, doesn’t it?). Herschensohn received 38.2% of the primary vote, 70,000 votes better than Campbell. The spoiler: Cher’s ex. Sonny Bono raked in almost 418,000 votes — one-sixth of the total, and presumably more than enough of the moderate bloc to hand the contest to Herschensohn.

So here’s the question: would the always-proper, always-polite Campbell be comfortable with the thought of playing the spoiler in 2010 — in this instance, possibly handing the race to the more conservative Chuck DeVore by taking away from the more centrist Carly Fiorina? Or does he think he’s better suited, as a cool-headed iconoclast, in this angry electoral climate?

Right now, that Republican primary is one part ideology, another part implied but unstated class warfare. Fiorina needs to convince hardcore Republicans that she’s suitably Reaganesque - always a challenge for a Silicon Valley Republican. DeVore – he of nuclear power and offshore drilling – suggests she’s anything but, all the while trying to score pathos as the non-millionaire candidate who’s campaigning out of his car, as opposed to the more affluent Fiorina.

Throw Campbell into the race and you’ll see at least wrinkles:

1) Abortion. DeVore and Fiorina are pro-life; Campbell’s pro-choice.

2) Taxes. DeVore and Fiorina take the usual conservative line (fuggedaboutit!).  Campbell has touted a temporary increase in the gas tax to help fill the state’s budget hole.

3) Same-Sex Marriage. DeVore and Fiorina voted for Proposition 8. Campbell voted no on 8 and penned an op-ed advocating an end to “marriage discrimination”.

4). Arnold. I’m assuming any and all GOP candidates will throw the governor under the bus, if it scores primary points. All except for Campbell, who once served as Schwarzenegger’s Director of Finance.

5) Food Fight. A DeVore-Fiorina race highlights the question of Republican “purity” — is the California GOP more “tea bag” or more centrist-right? With Campbell, the media will take it in a new direction: Republican statewide viability.

Over on Campbell’s campaign website, no upcoming public events were listed. And if you really like to over-read things: “Campbell for California” is office-interchangeable.

 Stay tuned to see if Senator Blutarsky called it right.

Written by Bill Whalen

January 8, 2010 at 5:04 am

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See Jane Run?

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How’s this for a surprise entry in the California governor’s race?

Hint: A woman

Hint: She and her family make their home in the Southland.

Hint: She’s a reporter with an NBC pedigree.

Citizen Wells . . . Candidate Wells?

No, it’s not Maria.

Would you believe: Jane Wells, a CNBC reporter based in Los Angeles (she was in Sacramento today, covering the State of the State Address), and author of her own Funny Business blog. 

As you’ll see in this item she posted earlier today, she has what might be the right approach to running for office in these cynical times: a good sense of humor, sprinkled with a healthy serving of mockery and sarcasm.

After her colleagues talked her up for California’s top job, here’s what Ms. Wells said of her political potential:

“They’re joking. Sort of. After all, could I be any worse? Hey, there’s a campaign motto! Vote for Jane! She can’t be any worse!”

And she lays out a nascent platform in this, her bid to be the Golden State’s 38th governor.

“In my FAKE run for Governor, I will not propose serious ideas.

I am not going to champion massive plans to streamline state government (though we should outsource the DMV to the Auto Club) or suggest revolutionary new revenue generators (like trying to tax the marijuana industry without violating federal law).


This campaign is about bringing even more Funny Business to state government.

Vote for Jane: because we can still do damage to California!

All of which sorta reminds me Tammy Metzler’s epic student-assembly speech in the movie Election:

“If elected I will immediately dismantle the student government . . .”

I don’t know where Ms. Wells fits along the party and ideological fault lines. I do know that she’s worked for Geraldo Rivera. And she appeared on the final episode of Seinfeld.

So she knows a thing or two about working with fragile egos and shows about nothing.

Can’t thing of a better way to prepare for Sacramento.

Written by Bill Whalen

January 7, 2010 at 12:01 am

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Sacramento: The Pig and Pony Show

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So the future of California rests in the hands (hooves?) of pigs and ponies. Or so declared Arnold Schwarzenegger moments ago in his State of the State Address, citing his pets’ ability to work together as a metaphor for bipartisan cooperation in the new year.


Giddy up, members of the Legislature!!

It’s an interesting choice.

The pony spends its life being led around on a short leash.

The pig lives in poop, until ultimately it’s led to slaughter.

Not much of a bargain either way.

Ok, about the big speech . . .

First, it was double the length of last year’s 12-minute buzzkill. Kudos to Arnold for manning-up this year and addressing real problems, instead of last year’s load of self-pity.

 And the problems, as he said, are myriad. The economy is flat, revenues won’t be pouring in anytime soon, we have serious infrastructure needs, Washington’s shortchanging us, and on and on and on . . .

And yet, Arnold Schwarzenegger is an optimist. It’s not an act. He truly believes in a better future for California. The problem is, he wants to realize the dream of a 21st Century California . . . all the while at the mercy of a 12th Century political system. Unfortunately, that’s what Sacramento is right now – medieval in its feuds and feudalistic divisions.

back and forth . . .

Realizing his limitations (and his own affinity for ideological tacking), Arnold’s final State of the State was vintage in his shifting from left to right — one moment pleasing Dems, the next minute Reeps. Some of you might recall the bongo board, a popular party favor back in the 1950s that later grew popular as a means for balance training. You stand on the board, roll the bongo side to side beneath, trying to maintain your equilibrium.

Arnold, in his speech, was the man on the bongo board. He’d shift left: money for job-training. Then right: tax and regulatory reform. Then left: a constitutional amendment to protect higher-ed spending. Then right: privatize prisons. Then left: we need health reform. Then right: not the way Congress has done it.

This much I can you assure, having worked on these speeches in a past life. Ultimately, State of the State Addresses are just empty words if there’s no follow-through. It requires . . . well, heavy lifting.

So look for two things in the weeks and month ahead:

1) The follow-through with the Legislature. The governor has taken the first step — ideas that titillated both sides of the aisle, even an invitation to have lunch. Next up, methinks: a private meeting with the leadership to discuss what’s d.o.a. vs. what can go into a deal. With less than a year to go in office and a lot of moving parts suddenly put into play, that’s Arnold’s best hope: bring both sides together fast and start the deal-cutting process.

2) The follow-through in D.C. Arnold was spot-on when he brought up the California “fair share” gripe (Pete Wilson did the same in the ’90s, when defense dollars started disappearing). But he has a lot of lost ground to make up with Congress. If the Governator wants to be the Collectinator, he needs to take on a collection agency mentality and be a pest, be persistent, and take advantage of existing assets (Speaker Pelosi, Barbara Boxer looking for good p.r.). Nag, pound the rums, offer the one things all D.C. politicians crave: access to California political donors.

The chances of all this happening by year’s end?   Perhaps some change and needed reforms are in the air. But the governor getting everything he wants? Roughly the same chances as this guy — the other half of Arnold’s bipartisan tandem — ever taking flight . . .

Written by Bill Whalen

January 6, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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