Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Archive for February 2010

Razing Arizona Climate Change?

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Last week, I offered a few thoughts on how climate change will work its way in California’s gubernatorial race — Democrat Jerry Brown embracing the concept, while Republican Meg Whitman wants a temporary freeze (pun intended) on AB 32, the state’s landmark greenhouse-gas bill.

Governor Schwarzenegger, all the while, getting hotter under the collar while his fellow Republicans take swipes at his favorite accomplishment.

And there’s still the U.S. Senate race, where Democrat Barbara Boxer’s role as a principal advocate of cap and trade legislation is sure to be a bone of contention, especially in the Central Valley. Boxer will defend her work as “pollution reduction”. Republicans will call it a ticket to more job losses in California.

Now comes word from next door that Arizona, one of seven states (along with California and four Canadian provinces) that joined in the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative wants to scale back her state’s role in the emissions-curbing movement. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has issued an executive order which says her state won’t be taking part in any emission-control plan that could adversely affect businesses and taxpayers.

The Arizona governor is not a complete climate agnostic, however.  That same executive order also called for the creation of a 15-member commission to look into the economics of climate change. Seemingly to cover her political bases, that panel will include representatives from Arizona’s ag, mining, transportation and utilities, plus local Indian tribes.

BTW, if you’re curious as to how the recent scandals inside the scientific world have impacted the politics of global warming in the nation’s capital, then you should check out this piece co-authored by Washington Post reporter and Hoover media fellow Juliet Eilperin. 

With the California Republican Party’s state convention fast approaching, let’s see how strong the candidates push back against global warming — and how it plays beyond the GOP crowd.

Written by Bill Whalen

February 16, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

What to Make of Bayh’s Good-Bye

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This morning’s surprise announcement by Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh that he won’t seek a third term — a surprise in that Bayh enjoyed a healthy lead and a flush war chest — didn’t lack for high-minded talk.

Bayh indicated that he was frustrated by the lack of bipartisan coöperation in the “world’s most deliberative body”. And he said he never believed in running just for the sake of running.

One sign that Bayh may genuinely be fed up with the place: he didn’t give an advance heads-up to Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid. Bayh reportedly did put a phone call into Reid – but only after the news of his retirement already had leaked.


But there’s a potentially very crass political calculation to this, as The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza points out. Bayh’s bombshell, done at last moment as far as Indiana election law is concerned, is more for the benefit of Democratic insiders than Democratic voters.

Here’s why:

Because signatures to qualify for the ballot are due tomorrow, no Democrat will formally file — leaving the seat vacant and allowing the state party apparatus to choose the candidate.

Makes one wonder if Bayh’s decision, seeing as its timing saves his party from a contentious primary and lets the intelligentsia pick the candidate it deems best positioned for an uphill fall campaign, really was so spur-of-the-moment . . .

BTW, if you’re keeping score at home, The Cook Political Report now lists 8 Democratic-held Senate seats as either toss-ups or leaning/solidly Republican.

If all of those 8 went into the GOP camp, and the Republicans held onto all of their 4 toss-up seats, the balance next January would be 49-49-2. Thus making Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman, one of the two Senate independents (Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, a Socialist, being the other) a very popular man.

A second BTW:  Barbara Boxer remains in the in the “lean Democratic” column — meaning that, in order to take over the Senate, Republicans will have to run the table in all the states where the Democrats have troubles, plus pull off an upset in either California or Connecticut, site of the other “lean Democratic” race.

Written by Bill Whalen

February 15, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Open Primary, Same Closed Results?

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To some, it’s the promise of an end to ultra-partisan lawmakers. To others, it’s the gelding of political parties.

Either way, the upcoming California open-primary initiative, which if approved would allow voters to vote in a party primary regardless of their political affiliation, with the top-two finishers moving on to the general election, is an idea Californians love or hate.

Now comes a report from the Public Policy Institute of California saying, in effect, that an open primary (aka Proposition 14) would have a limited effect on state politics.

It reaches this conclusion based on research of the “blanket primary” that was in effect in California after the passage of Proposition 198 back in 1996.  Under that system, which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, voters could choose a candidate in a race without regard for party lines.

Highlights from the report (you can click here to download the pdf):

Crossover voting was sometimes very high. It was especially prevalent among Republicans in heavily Democratic districts and Democrats in heavily Republican ones. In the 2000 presidential contest, 27 percent of ballots were crossovers in one direction or the other.

Most voters didn’t cross party lines to sabotage the other party. Contrary to fears that voters might try to clear the way for their own party’s nominee by voting for the other party’s weakest candidate, most voters chose the candidates they liked best. Successful sabotage of another party’s candidates would require complicated coordination among voters.

Many crossed over to choose the incumbent because the incumbent was familiar. A top two vote-getter primary would be just as likely as the current system to maintain incumbents in office. However, this incumbency effect would insulate both moderates and partisans, so even a small moderating effect might build over time as moderate winners retain office and new ones arrive to join them.

Still more crossed over to participate in a competitive contest. Candidates with well-funded campaigns are generally better known and more competitive. As a result, disparities in campaign funding are likely to continue to play a significant role under a top two vote-getter primary.

Voter turnout was modestly higher. Voter participation was a few percentage points higher in 1998 and 2000 than in comparable midterm or presidential elections before or since.

Campaign spending increased, but not more than expected. Although there was an increase in campaign spending, it was no greater than would be predicted based on longer-term trends.

“The top two vote-getter primary would probably have a noticeable but modest effect on voting and representation in California,” says Eric McGhee, PPIC research fellow and author of the report, At Issue: Open Primaries. “We should not expect this reform to quickly or dramatically change the state’s partisan climate.”


Written by Bill Whalen

February 11, 2010 at 8:03 pm

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California Con-Con a Non-Non Starter

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So much for the people’s revolt in California – at least, in this election cycle.

Word out of Sacramento is the initiative effort to launch a state constitutional convention is on hold due to a pair of culprits: lack of money to gather signatures to qualify for the ballot; and a reluctance, on the part of the signature-gathering industry, to get involved in the cause — lest it offend the powers-that-be in the state capital.

At last report, the reform group Repair California had raised $522,000 — about one-sixth of what it needs to do a legitimate signature-gathering effort. And the group’s collected only 140,000 signatures.

Why the lack of cash?


Give to the con-con and you risk offending incumbent lawmakers and entrenched special interests — basically anyone and everyone who makes out like a bandit under the current system.

All of which shows the problem with trying to launch non-partisan reform efforts in California. So, once again, I’m going to ride a favorite hobby-horse: the need for a group of deep-pocketed Californians to form a political venture fund, to allow nonpartisan groups like Repair California to put their ideas in motion.

My idea: take three Republicans, three Democrats and three independents. Have each contribute $1 million to the fund for an election cycle. Then, like a v.c. firm, have wannabe initiative efforts come forward and make their best pitch for start-up money.

Because of the makeup of the fund, a strongly partisan effort would have a hard time getting seed money. More times than not, the independent members would be the swing vote, just like in a California statewide election.

Granted, there are problems with this scenario — beginning with finding 9 Californians who are willing to fund ideas that offend the political establishment. So retired executives and term-limited, ex-politicians would be of particular value.

Paging Governor Schwarzenegger . . .

Written by Bill Whalen

February 11, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Whitman vs. Unions: Missiles Away?

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This morning’s Matier & Ross column in the San Francisco Chronicle has the interesting little tidbit: an upcoming $20 million independent expenditure meant to put a serious dent in Meg Whitman’s gubernatorial campaign.

This is nothing new to California politics — nor even this race. Last month, the Democratic Governors Association said it planned an $11 million campaign to boost the fortunes of Attorney General Jerry Brown, the likely gubernatorial nominee on the Democratic side.  Yes, Brown has something like $13 million in the bank — and he’ll need every penny of it (plus about three times that total) if he draws Whitman as his November foe.

And now, the obligatory California history lesson –  in this case, how i.e.’s sometimes have unintended consequences.

Back in 2002, then-Gov. Gray Davis launched a 30-second tv ad against potential rival Richard Riordan, accusing the former Los Angeles mayor of past support of antiabortion candidates and organizations. The purpose of the ad, which was launched during the primary season: to soften up Riordan for the November election, if not taking him down in the primary, by undermining his pro-choice credentials.

The ad worked, in that Riordan tanked in the primary. But it created a long-term problem. Davis’ insistence on running a negative campaign meant less time talking up his performance as governor. A year later, and coming on the heels of a not-so-impressive five-point win, that made it all the easier to take down Davis in the recall election.

That’s why it’s worth pointing out that in 2010, unlike 20o2, the candidate isn’t the one shelling out for the i.e. Instead, the effort will be largely financed by unions, who care not for Whitman’s talk of reducing the state government payroll (that, and California Republican governors and unions historically have mixed like oil and water on matters like pension reform, daily overtime and teacher accountability, to name just three contentious debates).

So where does this leave Whitman? For openers, if she’s smart, she’ll invest in a rapid-response operation both to rebut the ugly charges coming her way and to explain that the accusers (the unions) are part of the problem, not the solution, for California’s long-term well-being. In other worse, try to turn the mud into a conversation about change vs. status quo in Sacramento.

The second question: when, if and how heavilty does Whitman endorse (and the help finance) the “citizen power initiative” making its way to the November ballot. Otherwise known as “paycheck protection”, the measure would end the practice of mandatory political dues for union members, thus severely weakening the unions’ role in California initiatives and individual campaigns.

Republican Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina endorsed the initiative in a campaign stop yesterday in La Jolla. But Whitman’s support would take the measure to a different level, if she dropped a couple of million of her own dollars into the fight. That, of course, would take her relationship with the unions to Defcon level one.

Then again, it may be inevitable that both sides will one day launch their missiles — for the unions, sooner rather than later.

Written by Bill Whalen

February 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

California’s Top Donor? Bada-Bing!

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California’s Fair Political Practices just came out with a list of the state’s top-ten political donors.

And the winner is: Steve Bing, Hollywood man-about-town and Democratic donor, with $58.05 million.

Bing (left), building a bridge to #1 in 21st Century donations

Bing, perhaps best know for a paternity squabble with model/actress Elizabeth Hurley, reportedly gave nearly $50 million in 2006 in support of the ill-fated Proposition 87, which sought to raise taxes on oil production to help develop alternative fuels.

A year before that, he chipped in $4.25 to help take down Proposition 77, a redistricting reform measure whose  chief sponsor was . . .

The runner-up on the top-then list: Steve Poizner, state Insurance Commissioner and currently a gubernatorial candidate, with $43.2 million.

Poizner invested $2.5 million in the losing Prop 77 effort, though it did give him an opportunity to lay the groundwork for future campaigns in 2006 and 2010.

Third-place belong to Steve Westly, former state Treasurer and loser in the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial. Westly, who like Meg Whitman struck it rich at eBay, shelled out $41.7 million.

And in fourth place: Arnold Schwarzenegger, with a “mere” $25.8 million (a total likely to increase with big campaigns to come for the open-primary initiative in June and the multi-billion water bond on the November ballot).

Maybe this could have been a better tack for Whitman campaign consultant Mike Murphy and that memo of his. Rather than trying to intimidate Poizner with threats of outspending him, Murphy simply could have asked: “Do you want to spend another $15 million and own the record?

 BTW, if you’re curious as to who else is a California big $pender, here’s a link to other FPPC top-ten lists.

Written by Bill Whalen

February 10, 2010 at 4:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

California and the IMF: Perfect Together?

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If California’s financial mess is Greek to you, then maybe it’s time you took a look at the troubles plaguing Greece — to see the parallel between the Mediterranean nation and the American nation-state.

So writes Terry Keenan (of CNN and Fox News fame) in the New York Post,  citing the “very real possibility” that the erstwhile cradle of democracy will need a bailout from its European Union buddies, or maybe even the International Monetary Fund, to stave off a debt default. Meanwhile, the Golden State looks to Washington for a multi-billion handout/bailout to void a fiscal meltdown this summer.

Here’s Ms. Keenan’s take:

For Arnold, Greece is the Word

“Like Greece, California and the 49 other states can’t print their own currency, and, like Greece, California can no longer pay its bills without the help of a central authority — in this case Washington, which has pumped up the state’s finances with billions in stimulus dollars.

Yes, to be sure, last summer, the State of Schwarzenegger did issue IOUs for a time in a desperate bid to keep California afloat, but it’s a stunt not likely to be repeated. Suffice it to say, California is as dependent on Washington for a sound currency as Greece is on Brussels.

More worrisome, while Greece is the Delaware of the EU, representing just 2 percent of its economy, California’s economy is the sixth-biggest on the planet, clocking in with about 13 percent of national GDP. This week the price of credit default insurance on California’s bonds rose to levels that are double the prices back in October. It’s not a huge stretch to imagine a day this year when California has a failed-debt auction, similar to the one in Portugal last week that led to new worries about Greece and market panic around the world.”

Here’s a thought. Since California’s economy dwarves Greece’s why not cut to the chase, circumvent Washington, and go straight to the IMF for a bailout? After all, the IMF’s Web site describes its core mission as “working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.”
Sure sounds like California, doesn’t it?
Besides, if it guaranteed an IMF jackpot by likening our woes to those of Greece, maybe Arnold would reprise his role as “Hercules in New York” (btw, the future governor’s first feature film).

Written by Bill Whalen

February 8, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Guv’s Race: Is Brown Green, Or Green w/ Envy?

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We won’t know for another four months whether Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman will square off as the finalists in California’s governor’s race. But if that’s the case, two issues are a virtual certainty: Whitman’s wealth, and the environment.

And this past weekend: a preview of coming attractions.

First, Meg’s mega-millions.

Jerry Brown

In an appearance before a gathering of young Democrats in San Francisco, Brown played the class-warfare card, pointing to Whitman’s $40 million investment in her own campaign.   

“California is deeply in debt, you could say it’s bankrupt, and we can always find new sources of money but it’s always good to make use of the money you have and to get more out of every dollar, and I would say how one spends money in a campaign would be on indicator of how you might spend the people’s money.”
So much for that endorsement from New York City Mike Bloomberg . . .
As for the environment, keep an eye on initiative currently in circulation that would suspend the implementation of AB 32, the state’s climate-change law signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger, for the immediate future.
If the ballot measure passes in November, AB 32 would go on hold until California’s unemployment falls to where it stood in 2007. In other words, not anytime soon.
Here’s where the fun begins.

Once again, the political world seemingly revolves around Anold

The backers of the initiative are counting on tea-party momentum to carry the day. Whitman would love to tap into that same anti-establishment sentiment, especially if she’s running against a long-in-the-tooth politician like Brown. And it wouldn’t be a big leap if she got on board, as she already supports a one-year suspension of AB 32.
But doing that risks the wrath of one Arnold Schwarzenegger, who sees AB 32 as his landmark achievement. Thus it’s no surprise that Brown, who’d sorely love the Governator’s endorsement, has already waded into the debate, as it were, by fiddling with the initiative’s title and description — one of the perks of being Attorney General.
And the measure potentially has California’s business community twixt and tween. They’re no fans of AB 32, as this blog item shows. But they too don’t want to get on Schwarzenegger’s bad side, as a Republican governor is the business community’s best friend when it comes to vetoing liberal-drafted legislation.
Last week, Brown waded further into the debate when his office tinkered with the initiative by chucking its “California Jobs Initiative” title.
In its place, this nifty piece of government gobbledygook, meant to appal votes along the coast:
“Suspends State laws requiring reduced greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, until California’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent or less for four consecutive quarters. Requires State to abandon implementation of comprehensive greenhouse-gas-reduction program that includes increased renewable energy and cleaner fuel requirements, and mandatory emission reporting and fee requirements for major polluters such as power plants and oil refineries, until suspension is lifted.
It’s not the first time that an environmental initiative has impacted a governor’s race. You might recall Prop 128 — the Big Green initiative — and the 1990 contest between Pete Wilson and Dianne Feinstein.
The measure, which proposed to ban a slew of pesticides, raised a ruckus with the ag community and Central Valley voters. It went down to defeat on Election Day, as did Democrat DiFi, confirming the conventional wisdom at the time that Earth Day boasts didn’t translate in Election Day votes.
Twenty years later, in another open-seat election, the dynamics are different. The effort isn’t to get an environmental initiative enacted. Instead, this time around, it’s an initiative to put a current green law on hold.
Should make for a fun debate.

Written by Bill Whalen

February 8, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Super Bowl, Super President?

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Armchair quarterbacks and second-guessers are having a field day with President Obama’s troubles.

Is the problem being too timid with Congress, not acting quickly enough on the deficit, not adding enough Republican ideas to mix to show he truly is a different brand of politician — or, is this simply another case of campaigning being a whole lot easier than governing (see Carter, Jimmy . . . Clinton, Bill)?

My take: the Obama Adminstration first went off the rails on the morning of Nov. 5, 2009.

It was just hours after the New York Yankees had won the World Series. And, for Obama, a chance to show that change was on the way.

All the Prez had to point out was the obvious: the Bronx Bombers had won it all in 1996 and 1998-2000 (years a Democrat occupied the Oval Office), then went an inglorious 0-fer during the Bush presidency.

Some opening remarks write themselves: “Just as America’s most storied baseball team is waking up from our long national nightmare, so too are the American people . . .” But Obama didn’t take advantage of his role in ending the Yankees’  jinx (and maybe getting a World Series ring to go along with that Nobel Peace Prize).

So does Super Bowl XLIV offer a similar opening for America’s XLIVth president?

I’ve crunched the numbers — which conference fares better with a Democrat or Republican in office . . . the fortunes of red- and blue-state teams . . . games won by teams from states that voted for the winning candidate, etc. And there isn’t much to be gained.

For example: the AFC went 6-2 during the Bush43 years and the NFC went 6-2 during the Clinton years. Eureka! The AFC is Republican and the NFC is Democratic (which, by the way is kinda how the Colts and Saints come cross, given the players involved and the cities they represent).

But, timeout. The play is under review . . .

That same “Democratic” NFC went 10-2 during the Reagan-Bush41 years. The “Republican” AFC had a winning record during the Carter years.

Overall, going back to LBJ and the first game in 1967, the NFC has won 9 of the 15 “Democratic” Super Bowls; the AFC has won 15 of the 28 “Republican” Super Bowls”.

By the way, I’m not the only propellor-head who likes to fiddle with this sort of stuff. Here’s a link to the America Bowl, which is one man’s effort to match up the 43 previous administrations with the 43 previous Super Bowls and deciding once and for all which mattered more: the man or the game?

So far, the score is: Super Bowls 21, Presidents 20.

Written by Bill Whalen

February 5, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Oh What a Feeling: Legislature Bashes Toyota

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When times are tough, find a scapegoat. And what better current one than Toyota, mired in a world of hurt over accelerators and brakes that don’t work as advertised.

Or so the California State Legislature seems to have concluded.

Not jumping for joy in Sacramento

Yesterday, the state’s Assembly Rules Committee passed a measure banning the chamber from purchasing vehicles for its fleet if less than half of said auto is manufactured and assembled in the U.S.

It’s a return to a “buy American” rule that was in effect in Sacramento before hybrids – and Gov. Schwarzenegger and the greening of California — came along.

The mastermind behind this move: Assemblyman Ted Lieu. He wants to punish Toyota for, among other things, deciding to stop buying Corollas and Tacoma pickups from  trucks from an independently owned company called NUMMI – a joint venture between GM and Toyota that was set up in the 1990s to produce autos in the San Francisco Bay Area.

It kinda reminds me of a press stunt bck in the summer of 1987, when ten very miffed members of Congress smashed a small Toshiba radio with sledgehammers to underscore their anger at the Toshiba Machine Company of Japan for selling milling machines to the Soviet Union (thus allows the Soviets to build harder-to-detect submarines).

The members called for a “total boycott” of Toshiba to include televisions, VCRs and personal computers. So far, the Legislature hasn’t called for an outright ban on Toyota sales in California. Maybe that’s the Transportation Secretary’s next blunder.

While it’s all good and swell that the Legislature wants to help the beleaguered U.S. auto industry, here’s another thought: how about helping the beleaguered California taxpayer . . . by doing away with lawmakers’ monthly car allowance?

And: howsabout a link, somewhere on the Legislature’s website, to show taxpayers the leased cars their representative drive?

Having lived in Sacramento for five years, I can personally attest to the many commuting options to the State Capitol other than driving a leased car: light rail, bus lines, plus plenty of nice apartments and houses in Sacramento’s downtown and midtown areas that are within easy walking distance of the big white building.

The upside for our intrepid lawmakers: exercise, fresh air, and saving the planet from global warming. Plus, more time to brainstorm and devise clever p.r. stunts.

On second thought let them keep their cars.

Written by Bill Whalen

February 5, 2010 at 6:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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