Archive for September 2010
The following are real-time observations of Tuesday’s night’s Brown-Whitman debate. I’ve added some analysis at the end of this post. — BW
– Day 90 of the budget impasse and a debate a short drive over the causeway from the State Capitol spawns the first and most obvious question: how to get the state working. The questioner, Sacramento Bee columnist Amy Chance, wants to hear process. Whitman talks economics — lowering unemployment, streamlining government, welfare and pension reform. Jerry’s turn: long preamble, goes back to his days as governor, say he’ll bring lawmakers together in November, will cut Gov’s Office budget, then agencies’.
Is Jerry always this amped?
3-minute mark: Meg mentions unions; Jerry mentions seeing Meg ads ad nauseum.
– Second question and we’re into the present death-penalty controversy. I hope the rest of this debate isn’t as predictable. Jerry pledges to “faithfully” carry out executions; Meg sidetracks into Jerry’s crime record, plays the Rose Bird card. Two questions, two attacks. She’s more aggressive than I imagined. Jerry mentions Eisenhower and Earl Warren. Yikes, we’re even further back in time? Isn’t this debate about the future?
– Third question: Whitman asked about job-creation specifics. She wants to create manufacturing jobs, eliminate the start-up tax, streamline regulations. Sounds a lot like Pete Wilson’s approach in the early ’90s. Brown links her to Wall Street and Bushonomics; declares himself green-tech and AB 32 defender.
Noticing Whitman’s not taking notes, not looking at Jerry . . .
– Fourth question: And it’s a good one — Brown’s asked how can he be serious about pension reform when he benefits from the same system? Good response: laughs it off by saying he won’t get one until he’s 76 (if elected) or 80 (if re-elected). Whitman’s not laughing: she proposes raising retirement age from 55 to 65, increasing vesting period, new state workers getting a different arrangement. Makes sense — and says she’ll go to the ballot if need be (pretty much a given) if and when the unions play ball.
Jerry takes a swipe at Whitman’s wealthy donors. Like he wouldn’t welcome their support and $$ . . .
Fifth question: Meg’s voting record. Turns it back to her candidacy being free of special interest obligations.
Jerry doesn’t pounce. Is this still an issue . . .?
– Sixth question: Jerry’s eastward wanderlust (two presidential runs as guv; a third as an ex-guv). Says he’s too old, too married, too serious about California to do it again. Stops mid-thought to scratch his head — rarely is a debater this animated. Meg dumps on his Oakland mayoral record. Jerry rebuts with spendthrift record from gubernatorial days.
Jess Unruh. Seriously? Lots of California trivia in play tonight.
– Seventh question: would Brown roll back college fee increases and spending cuts? Not with a $19 billion deficit, he says (kudos for that rare display of candor). Maybe his best answer of the night, pretty much b.s.-free. Whitman goes back to streamlining government, offers the hypothetical of giving university chancellors more spending options, but doesn’t really get into a detailed higher-ed vision. Not her best answer of the evening, imo.
Hey, candidates, don’t be ashamed to mention Stanford, Caltech and USC!
Eighth question: Amy Chance accuses Whitman of running dishonest ads. Whitman revisits the Bill Clinton ad and its subsequent controversy. Smart move — you know that ad got under Jerry’s skin. Media bias moment: a CTA ad, on Brown’s behalf, had to be re-edited before stations would run it; Whitman’s campaign claims a union ad run on Spanish-speaking tv, is dishonest. No mention of either.
How’d we get into Proposition 13 . . .? California 2010, “That ’70s Show”!
Ninth question: Jerry says he favors a path to citizenship, as part of comprehensive immigration reform. Whitman doesn’t favor the path –wants to clamp down on the border . . . but distances herself from the Arizona’s controversial law. Same thing she said during the primary after being pressured by Steve Poizner. Bad moment for the debate panel: to me, the most interesting illegal-immigration flash point is the current policy of allowing undocumented students to attend California’s public universities.
Biggest policy difference tonight so far (and only 15 minutes to go) . . . curious that illegal immigration is so low-profile in this contest
Tenth question: is Whitman buying this election? Softball time! She mentions union spending in recent election cycles, gets back to safe ground: jobs, government efficiency, education reform (note that she calls campaign spending an “investment”). Jerry’s softball: how does he distance himself from union donors? Answer: I’m “legendary for my frugality”. Jerry alludes to a California Chamber of Commerce “slush fund”. Her chance to mention those pro-Brown union ads — and she doesn’t go there. Should she?
Jerry asks (pointing to Whitman): What About “Business” Over Here”? And here I thought her name was “Margaret” . . .
Eleventh (and last) question: water conservation for Northern California and a Peripheral Canal. Jerry wants better management, conveyances, taxpayers shouldn’t pay, and so forth — i.e., very general, not specific. Whitman cites support for the water bond that got punted to 2012 as it was a goner on this year’s ballot, calls it a good blueprint. Conservatives won’t like that.
Closing statements: Whitman says she believes in the “power of many” (it’s the title of her book). Jerry talks know-how, experience. Translation: older but wiser. Brown says they differ in values, mentioning tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires . . . and AB32.
And on and on and on he goes . . . don’t think there was a question tonight when Jerry wasn’t cut off by the moderator.
1) This was the first of three scheduled debates. So, for all the talk about high stakes, the stakes really weren’t that high. Ronald Reagan had an awful first debate in 1984, then ended the drama in the second presidential debate with his famous age quip. He went on to win 49 of 50 states. We’ll know more about this race’s outcome after the second and third debates. Well, maybe, if there’s more drama, or somebody slips up.
2) No knockdowns, no knockouts. Not really any punches landed, for that matter. Both candidates stuck to familiar themes (he’s a failed politician; she’s wealthy and wants to make her rich friends richer). Here’s how I judge it in this Information Age: was there a “YouTube moment” that will haunt either candidate for the remaining five weeks? Answer: not even remotely.
3) Is it possible to have a debate during which the candidates get to question each other directly? While there was nothing asked tonight that I’d consider a waste of viewers’ time, I’d be shocked if both camps didn’t anticipate everything that came their way. This is not to meant to criticize the good folks who put on this show. But I do believe the media have to try harder to catch a couple of very scripted candidates off guard.
4) Overall, Whitman was stiffer and more reserved that Brown. He displayed more personality — and more quirkiness, which is a mixed blessing when facing a weary/wary electorate (remember: this is an audition for four years of tough love, not 60 minutes of standup comedy). My guess: the race begins the day-after as it began the day-of: neck-and-neck, no clear frontrunner.
Oh, in case you’re curious as where the candidates and the truth intersected, here’s the Sacramento Bee’s scorecard.
It was the Friday before the recall election and Arnold Schwarzenegger had a problem
Make that: a big problem.
Having begun the morning in San Diego, the first stop on a south-to-north barnstorming tour that would end up later that weekend on the steps of the State Capitol, Schwarzenegger was confronted with a devastating story in that morning’s Los Angeles Times, alleging the movie star was a serial groper.
The candidate took the story head on, apologizing (without going into details) for his randy past behavior. But the damage was done. Not with voters, who swept Arnold into office the following Tuesday. Rather, it only fueled the suspicions of Republican conspiracy theorists that the Times (which cared little for the recall election, rarely had anything positive to say about Arnold’s candidacy and raced like mad to get the story into print before the vote) not only had a liberal bent, but went out of its way to skew the outcome of the October 2003 election.
It even reminded some of the “November surprise” that appeared out of nowhere the Thursday before the 2000 presidential election, revealing that then-candidate George W. Bush had been arrested for driving under the influence 30 years earlier, not too far from the family home in Kennebunkport, Maine. It didn’t cost Bush te election, but Karl Rove will tell you it nearly did — suppressing his support among Christian conservatives.
I mention this because here we are, seven years later and five weeks from the Nov. 2. election, and the conspiracy buffs are buzzing again. This time, it has to do with a University of Southern California/Times poll that had surprisingly strong numbers for top-of-the-ticket Democratic candidates Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer.
Whitman’s campaign wasted little trying to debunk the numbers, claiming the methodology was wrong (i.e., the wrong blend of too many Democrats and too few Republicans in the sampling)? So why the rapid response? To put an end to headlines like this one, from Reuters.
Media bias is probably a sensitive subject inside the Whitman campaign, which must tire of the same two queries every day: (1) why is she spending so much (answer: because she can); (2) why don’t she have a lead to show it (answer: cynical voters; a lot more Democrats than Republicans in California)?
But it does raise this question: come tomorrow night and the first gubernatorial debate at UC-Davis, will the questions be posed in such a way that the burden of proof is on Whitman to justify herself for lack of governmental experience, or is the panel spotlight instead on Brown for his eons of experience but seeming joy in avoiding details and specificity?
Those same conspiracy theorists who not only loathe the Times but also watched Carly Fiorina take much more heat than Boxer in their first debate, likely know what to expect.
And, come Wednesday, we’ll have more talk about debate winners and losers . . . and the media playing favorites.
You can’t have a tighter race than California’s gubernatorial contest between Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman.
This week’s Field Poll has the two tied at 41%, with 18% undecided.
The chattering class is having a field day (pun intended) with the numbers. Among the more popular takes: Whitman’s spent $120 million, but doesn’t have a lead to show for it. Conversely, Brown does not enjoy a vast lead among women voters that California Democrats have come to expect. Women split 41%-41%. Nor does Whitman benefit from the usual GOP macho gap — male voters prefer Brown, 41%-40%.
One number that did catch my attention: Whitman has a 3% lead in Los Angeles County. That could be the difference on Election Day.
I wanted to line up these numbers against Field Polls from the same time of the year in previous election years. The problem is: no previous governor’s race seems to quite match up with Brown-Whitman.
2006, 2002 and 1994 featured an incumbent governor on the ballot. Brown is a former governor and sort of quasi-incumbent, given he’s almost always holding an office come the time of his next run. But it’s not the same as a sitting governor in terms of ready stature and ready-made bully pulpit.
1998 was an open-seat race. However Democrat Gray Davis and Republican Dan Lungren were longtime fixtures in their respective parties. Brown’s also a fixture; Whitman, a first-candidate, isn’t.
Then there’s 1990 and another open-seat contest between Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican Pete Wilson. They are, arguably, California’s most respected living politicians. Neither Brown nor Whitman gets much media love for their contrasting approaches to this election (Meg’s somber; Jerry’s somnolent).
A Field survey released Sept. 27, 2006, had Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ahead of Democrat Phil Angelides, 44%-34%, with 15% undecided. The numbers on Election Day: Arnold 55.88%, Angelides 38.91%. The 10% lead swelled to nearly 17%. You can read that as Arnold picking up 4 of 5 undecideds down the home stretch.
There wasn’t a Field survey in September 2002. But I did find a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, released Sept. 26, 2oo2, that had Gov. Gray Davis ahead of Republican Bill Simon, 40%-32%. Final result: Davis 47.25%, Simon 42.4%. The hypothetical 8% lead played out at a little under 5%. That would suggest the underdog Simon received more undecideds.
And then we have a Field survey, released Oct. 7, 1998, showing Davis leading Lungren, 48%-42%. Final result: Davis 57.97%, Lungren 38.38%. A 6% spread turned out to be a blowout approaching 20%. That would suggest Davis not ran wild among undecideds, but pulled in a few liberal-to-moderate Republicans as well.
Davis ran away with that race because he effectively pinned Lungren into an ideological corner on a host of issues. And he outspent his Republican foe by a little over $5 million. These are two tactics unavailable to Brown; Whitman’s doggedly centrist; the only way she’s outspent is if Brown’s adopted by Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.
Then again, Meg’s not as charismatic as Arnold, nor does Jerry sport a “born to lose” tattoo like Phil Angelides.
Bottom line: let’s see how the first Brown-Whitman debate (three are scheduled) plays out next Tuesday night. With absentee voting starting up, it’s the beginning of getting those 18% undecideds if not off the couch, at least off their perch.
But in this election, Lungren holds a more dubious distinction: the only Republican member of California’s congressional delegation potentially in trouble.
Earlier this week, Congressional Quarterly moved Lungren into its “toss-up” category, the only Republican to be downgraded to that level in its latest assessment of the House races. Nationwide, all of three GOP seats have earned this rating. The other two: Illinois’ 10th CD, vacated by senatorial hopeful Mark Kirk; and Hawaii’s 1st CD (the congressional district in which Barack Obama grew up), which has belonged to freshman Charles Djou since his special-election win this past May.
So why is Lungren in trouble? And, more to the point, is he really in hot water?
The answer: probably not as much as the media would have you believe.
One challenge facing Lungren is the quirky design given to his district. California’s 3rd CD has a flying-wing design that stretches east from the California-Nevada border, south of Lake Tahoe, all the way west to Vacaville, roughly an hour’s drive from San Francisco. Its heart is the greater Sacramento region. That means Lungren’s constituents run the ideological gamut from hunters and open-space lovers to state employees and spillover from the Democratic-heavy Bay Area. Few California districts are as diverse.
Challenge #2: the district vacillates, depending on who’s at the top of the ticket. Just take a look at the last three votes in Sacramento County. In 2004, Democrat John Kerry edged George W. Bush by 3.3% (Bush won districtwide). Two years later, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger raked in 60.5%. But forget about Republican coattails: Lungren’s numbers in Sac County fell from 62%, in 2004, to 59.5% in the Arnold landslide of 2006.
Then came 2008 and the Democrats’ turn to dance. Barack Obama defeated John McCain by 19% in Sacramento County; Lungren’s support fell to 49.5%. And when an incumbent falls under 50%, it sets off the alarm bells.
It’s an interesting turn of events for a district that’s been reliably Democratic or Republican the past 80 years (Democrats held the seat almost uninterrupted from FDR’s first term to Jimmy Carter’s midterm in 1978; Republicans have held it since Bill Clinton’s second midterm in 1998).
So getting back to our question: is Lungren really in trouble? He is, if you believe this week’s Public Policy Polling survey that has him ahead of Democrat Ami Bera by only 8 points, 46%-38%. But that poll was conducted for the liberal Daily Kos — and the pollsters were in the field right after Bera had launched his first attack ad against Lungren, which goes after the Republican incumbent for receiving both a congressional salary and a state pension.
If Lungren’s on shaky ground, it hasn’t shown up on the seismographs at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Per the DCCC’s latest expenditure report, there’s only one Republican incumbent on the Democrats’ target list: Djou, the aforementioned Hawaii first-termer.
Money talks loudest in politics. And the lack of money pouring into California’s 3rd CD may say more than any poll.
Question: when it comes time to actually mark your ballot, do you savor the moment, thoughtfully pondering each candidate and proposition (I’m thinking of my dear old dad, who can turn a razor-thin weekday edition of The New York Times into a day-long love affair), or do you speed through the ballot lickety-split as you any other of life’s unpleasantries?
I ask this because, if you’re voting in California this fall, the first ballot measure on the Nov. 2 slate is Proposition 19, which would legalize the use, possession (up to an ounce), cultivation and selling of marijuana in the Golden State for residents 21 and up (it’s the 2nd time California has gone down this road — only one-third of voters supporting 1972’s Prop 19, which would have legalized marijuana starting at age-18).
Is marijuana legalization the kind of topic that makes voters stop and think? Or, when it comes to the leafy green, does the electorate see it solely in black-and-white terms?
For California’s leading candidates, the answer is “no” — in this election cycle, both Democrats and Republicans fear the reefer.
You might think Jerry Brown supports it. He doesn’t.
How about Kamala Harris, the San Francisco d.a. now running for California’s top cop? You can count her out, even though she hails from a city where, arguably, it’s easier to grow pot than food crops.
As for Republicans Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, they attended Stanford and Princeton during the 1970s when, rumor has it, students could tell the difference between paper clips and roach clips. Still, both have declared their opposition.
And that takes us back to the concept of speed-voting vs. pensive-voting.
Clearly, California politicians view drug legalization as a third rail. But does the public see it so clearly? We’ll find out in a few weeks.
I took part in a panel discussion in Berkeley the other day and had the good fortune of sharing the stage with Debra Saunders, the very talented San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Deb’s a bona fide conservative — but her fans on the right might find her position on Prop 19 quite provocative.
I’d add to that column my Hoover colleague Joseph McNamara, a former San Jose police chief who takes his law-and-order seriously. Again, his take on Prop 19 might surprise you (click here to see Joe’s FNC interview).
Does this suggest there’s an intellectual subculture in California that runs counter-current to the political culture? Again, we’ll find soon enough. But I can tell you that the Yes on 19 campaign is pushing one button that resonates with voters: adding revenue to the state’s coffers.
In the meantime, here are some of my questions:
1) Assuming Prop 19 passes and it’s legal to possess marijuana in California, what happens if I board a plane at SFO or LAX with a joint in my pocket, land elsewhere in the country, and Sniffy the Narco-Pup catches me holding and treats me like I’m wearing Milkbone underwear? Am I guilty of pot possession — or, like same-sex marriage, will other states follow California’s lead and recognize the new law?
2) If revenue-enhancement is a powerful selling point, where does California stop along this slippery slope? Does the Golden State become the new Nevada, with legal brothels? Where else can the state make money: pay-per-view prison gladiator bouts . . . pay-per-view, pay-for-play legislators?
3) Under Prop 19, you can grow your own — so long as it’s grown in a 5×5 space. But who’s going to police my background and make sure I don’t turn my back-40 into an enterprising little pot vineyard?
4) What happens if and when Republicans take control of the federal government and we get a 21st Century Elliot Ness as the nation’s attorney general? Do the G-men descend in force upon California, or do we have more of the see-no-evil status quo?
5) If California legalizes marijuana, does our long national nightmare end: Bill Clinton finally admitting that he tried marijuana in places other than England, partook of the drug more than “a time or two” — and, yes, that he inhaled?
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown is also known, in another past political life, as the “Ayatollah of the Assembly” for his absolute rule over California’s lower legislative chamber during the 1980’s and first half of the ’90’s.
But most folks probably don’t know how he earned the nickname.
The year was 1982 and Brown was looking to solidify his position as Speaker. In particular, he wanted to find a way to gracefully rid himself of some rival Assembly Democrats from Southern California.
It turned out: Brown’s rivals wanted out of Sacramento almost as much as Willie wanted them gone — especially if it meant getting their tickets punched to Congress.
Enter: political redistricting and the gerrymander.
Led by the late California Rep. Phil Burton (his district presently represented by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi), California Democrats came up with a plan that did to Golden State congressional districts what Hitler and Stalin once did to Poland.
Using, shall we say, some very creative geography, Burton’s cartographers turned a 43-seat congressional delegation that had split 22-21 in favor of the Democrats into a 45-seat bloc that re-divided 27-18 in his party’s favor. This, even though Republicans received more than 50% of the vote in the 1984 congressional elections in California, when the new districts were put to their first test.
But getting back to Willie . . .
In order to make the gerrymander work, Brown had to power it through the Assembly. Which is what he did, getting the measure approved at 1:20 a.m. on the final day of the spring legislative session, with then-Gov. Jerry Brown (yes, the same Jerry Brown currently running to get back his old job) eventually signing it into law shortly before he left office in January 1983 (more on the delay in a moment . . .).
Asked what to make of all the late-night power politics, Brown offered this famous boast:
“The Speaker in California is the closest thing you will ever know in the world to the Ayatollah.”
I’ve left out a lot of the drama from California’s 1980s redistricting fight: Republicans went to the ballot in June to block the Burton plan, which they succeeded in doing. However, they couldn’t get an alternative passed that November. Meanwhile, then-State Supreme Court Justice Rose Bird allowed the Burton plan to move ahead with a little fine-tuning with regard to minority districts (translation: Speaker Brown buying peace with then-Assemblywoman Maxine Waters). So the Burton plan became law — and another nail in Bird’s political coffin, as angry voters removed her from the bench.
Just look at what happened here a decade ago.
Determined to keep their delegation super-majority intact, incumbent congressional Democrats turned to political consultant and gerrymandering whiz Michael Berman. Mr. Berman — ironically, the brother of one of those Assembly Democrats who wanted to flee Sacramento and the Ayatollah’s reign back in the ’80’s — said he was more than happy to help . . . so long as every incumbent ponied up $20,000 for his services.
To which Rep. Loretta Sanchez noted:
‘Twenty thousand is nothing to keep your seat. I spend $2 million (campaigning) every year. If my colleagues are smart, they’ll pay their $20,000, and Michael will draw the district they can win in. Those who have refused to pay? God help them.’”
Berman’s plan worked. Congressional seats are pretty much blast-proof (California having maybe two seats in serious contention in this cycle). The Legislature’s even worse, with not a single seat changing party hands during entire statewide votes.
In theory, voters put an end to that latter farce, in the last election, approving Proposition 11. It tasks a citizen’s commission with redrawing legislative districts.
Naturally, the political ruling class wants that to end. Thus we have Proposition 27 on the November ballot. If approved, it kills Prop 11 and the idea of citizens handling legislative redistricting. And it makes sure that congressional redistricting remains in the bailiwick of politicians.
Why so? Because of the presence, further up on the ballot, of Proposition 20. If approved, Prop 20 adds congressional redesign to the responsibilities of Prop 11’s citizen’s commission.
Here’s where the political intrigue really heats up. Congressional Democrats hate the thought of Prop 20. So they’ve asked their deep-pocketed friends to help kill the cause. In this case, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has dumped $1 million into the Yes on 27 campaign (saying “yes” on Prop 27 being a more positive way of saying “no” on Prop 20).
Keep an eye on the 20/27 initiative fight as we get closer to November. Keeping control of Fortress California helps Democrats offset Republican gains in other Sunbelt states — that, and the GOP’s expected gains in governorship and control of state legislatures after this election. And the party has to figure what to do with so many candidates and so few seats (among the main problems: 40 Sacramento legislators due to retiring in 2012, some of whom presumably covet the term-limit-free Congress).
Such is the challenge for the current chairman of the California Democratic Party: John Burton. Yes, he’s the brother of Phil, the ’80’s gerrymandering giant.
In case you’re interested in how California’s population shifts adds to the Democrats’ complicated task of drawing congressional lines (more folks in the Inland Empire; fewer living around Pelosiland), here’s a nifty chart.
Think “Alice in Wonderland” and Chapter Seven” (“A Mad Tea Party”) and you might conjure up images of the Cheshire Cat, the March Hare, the Dormouse, or even the Hatter himself.
Now, think of America’s upstart Tea Party and up pops an image of . . . J.D. Hayworth?
According to The Hill newspaper, the former Arizona congressman and also-ran in this year’s Senate primary is soon to be announced as the national spokesman for the nation’s hottest political movement.
If indeed Hayworth gets the nod, I think it’s not a smart move as far as choosing a national standard-bearer.
1) You want a winning face to go with a winning movement. Hayworth’s not that. He received less than one-third of the vote in his battle against John McCain. Nor did he receive Sarah Palin’s endorsement, which instead went to a longtime incumbent who’s hardly a Tea Party darling. Sure, you can argue, Palin was paying back McCain for elevating her to the national stage. But there’s another way to look at it: she didn’t think enough of Hayworth to make a signature Tea Party statement: throwing the maverick under the Straight Talk Express.
2) If the Tea Party is about denouncing the excesses of the Democratic Congress and the sins of the late Republican Congress, why turn to someone who was part of said past GOP failure? Indeed, this came up during the primary, with McCain running an ad featuring fellow Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake and slamming Hayworth on his earmark record.
3) Hayworth may be good at voicing anger, which is fine if you’re a talk-radio host (something Hayworth was, before becoming a full-time candidate) and are looking to fill three hours of drive-time five days a week. But a national movement needs someone who embodies optimism and finer virtues. Think, for a moment, about Ronald Reagan. Was he solely about fiery anti-tax Prop 13 and welfare-queen rhetoric, or was his movement centered around a more optimistic vision of America? I’m not suggesting that the Tea Party surrender its microphone to some grinning fool. But I do believe we already have enough angry talkers saturating the airwaves.
4) Once the election is over, will Hayworth cede or share the microphone, settling for a less political role like his own show on the Fox News Channel, or will the Tea Party get caught up in the same kind of internal bickering that killed the Reform Party movement a decade ago? Back then, America didn’t lack for opportunists who wanted to run for president as the lead voice of the protest vote: H. Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, and former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura all come to mind. For 2012 and beyond, the challenge for the Tea Party, if it wants to take root and keep a permanent role in American politics, is to avoid the same cancer from within — i.e, grown-ups acting like juveniles.
California Republicans tend to look at the state’s leading newspapers as one vast left-wing conspiracy.
But not all papers think alike — and certainly not their editorial boards.
Case in point: Proposition 21, which if approved would impose an $18 vehicle-license surcharge to help fund state park and wildlife programs.
You’d think the state’s most progressive, large-circulation paper would be an automatic “yes” vote on an initiative that’s all about green grass and high tides.
Guess again. The San Francisco Chronicle’s ed board this week gave Prop 21 a thumbs down. Its reasoning:
“State finances are already dotted with similar walled-off financial pots, making budget-writing difficult. If this measure wins, other long-suffering groups might step forward with heart-tugging arguments for social services, law enforcement or health care. Voters may be fed up with Sacramento‘s financial paralysis — a notion that this measure caters to — but it robs Sacramento of the flexibility needed to set priorities and write a budget.”
Fair enough. So if the paper literally printed to the left of Sacramento is sour on Prop 21, the good folks over at The Sacramento Bee — the editorial writers living at Ground Zero of sketchy politics, who live and breathe ballot-box budgeting and all else that’s wrong with the state’s finances — must really hate it.
Again: guess again.
Here’s an excerpt from the Bee’s take on the measure:
Welcome to another fascinating insight into the psyche conflicted California voter, played out in the court of public opinion. Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana for Californians 21 and older, divides the state primarily by generation. Proposition 23, which would bring a temporary halt to California’s global-warming law, is largely ideological (lefties who hate Big Oil v. righties who hate Gore-ocrats).
It’s not a death-bed conversion, because he stands a good chance of winning his race. That said, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s insistence upon vetoing a proposed citywide alcohol fee to pay for the cost of treating alcoholics is notable.
First, it shows the fine line that Newsom walks in his quest to replace Republican incumbent Abel Maldonado as California’s lieutenant governor.
The mayor’s record — indeed, his city itself — is subject to scrutiny. Hence, Newsom’s select visibility in city politics the past several months.
Second, it spares Newsom from the potentially negative fallout of an “only in Ess Eff” story.
If approved, San Francisco would be the first city in the country to go down this road (an increase of roughly 3 cents on a glass or beer; 4-5 cents for a glass or wine or hard liquor — translated another way: 35 cents for every gallon of beer; $1 for a gallon of wine; $3.20 for a gallon of hard liquor.
It’s hardly a bragging point, and only serves to point out San Francisco’s other oddities that don’t play well in other parts of California: the sanctuary city ordinance, the plastic-bag ban, the $500 fines for failing to compost food scraps, to name but three.
(Here’s a particularly grim assessment of “Babylon by the Bay”, courtesy of SF Weekly . . .)
Third, it shows the difference between campaigning and governing as far as California Democrats and fiscal policy intersect in this particular election cycle.
No serious contender will walk the Phil Angelides gangplank. The closest we’ve come to any talk of new taxes is Jerry Brown’s too-cute-by-half promise that he won’t do it . . . not without voter approval.
Now along comes Newsom, promising to kill the alcohol fee. It’s a convenient campaign pose. Problem is, it’s not the Democratic impulse east along the I-80, over in Sacramento.
Faced with a $19.1 billion budget, Assembly Democrats two weeks ago floated the following scheme: higher income taxes and a lower sales tax (i.e., class warfare), a new levy on oil production, an increase in vehicle-registration fees and a suspension of corporate tax breaks.
Back in May, and trying to come up with the math to justify $9 billion in new bonds, Assembly Democrats talked about paying for their plan with money collected from fees that beverage distributors pay to the Golden State. Which was similar to another spending scheme back in 2009 that included a user fee on gasoline.
One wonder what Newsom would do if, as acting governor, an increase in the VLF landed on his desk (you’ll “recall” that it didn’t do much for Gray Davis’ fortunes). Does this mean that the Democratic lite guv hopeful is reflexively opposed to higher service fees as a budget gimmick, as his SF alcohol stand would indicate or, once sent to Sacramento, would he go with the flow?
Now that the dust has settled in Delaware and the shocker in that state’s Republican senatorial primary, here’s what we know that we didn’t 48 hours ago:
1) The Democrats’ most effective rebuttal to the Tea Party might be . . . Karl Rove?
2) Or it might be Sarah Palin, whose involvement in Delaware — the fruits of her labor producing a general-election candidate with a tougher row to hoe — was characterized by Charles Krauthammer as “disruptive and capricious”.
3) At some point after Nov. 2, the GOP and the Tea Party will decide if indeed they dance a political tango in 2012 — and, if so, who leads?
4) The Republican dream of a 51-seat majority next January seems less likely, though not improbable.
5) California, with its toss-up Boxer-Fiorina race, just got a lot more important.
Here’s why . . .
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Delaware is no longer a no-brainer pickup for the GOP (think Joe Biden’s son is kicking himself for taking a pass on going for the old man’s old seat?). If so, what 10 other states offer a decent chance of a Republican pickups in the Senate?
1) North Dakota. Republican Gov. John Hoeven seems all but certain the replace the retiring Byron Dorgan, thus becoming the freshman senator most likely to obsess over Fruit of the Loom underwear.
2) Arkansas. Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln looks like a goner, given that she’s down by 17 points in some polls, and has a hard time cracking the 35% barrier. The spells buh-bye.
3) Pennsylvania. With Arlen Specter out of the way, Republican Pat Toomey seems to have the inside track.
4) Wisconsin. Bucky Badger swung both ways in the 1980 and 1986 Senate landslide elections; Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold just called for six debates — usually, the sign of a worried candidate.
8 ) Washington State. Democratic incumbent Patty Murray apparently has recovered to the point where she has a 9-point lead — a surge that has local Republicans puzzled.
9) West Virginia. A race everyone forget about, until Democratic icon Robert Byrd passed away. Paging Kathleen Harris: Mountaineer Republicans are alleging ballot hijinks.
And that leaves us with that mystical 10th state. Is it Connecticut, where pro-wrestling maven Republican Linda McMahon is the Fabulous Moolah of this year’s campaign cycle, with her cash-laden suplex?
Or, do we change our minds about Delaware?
And, what are the odds of the nine aforementioned states all cutting the Republicans’ way?
The likely scenario: without a Republican victory in California, there’s no 51st GOP seat.
Which makes the Golden State, for the first time in a very long time, terribly relevant as far as the Senate’s composition is concerned.