Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Archive for December 2009

California Redistricting Gods to Whalen: Drop Dead

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So a wave of civic-mindedness swept over me this morning and I decided to apply for a spot on California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission (the 90-day window for signing up began last week).

The good news: if you’re even mildly computer-proficient, the online process takes less than 5 minutes.

The bad news: thanks to the wonders of cyberspace, it took less time than it did to apply — maybe all of two minutes — for the powers-that-be to tell me “thanks, but no thanks”.

The reason: I’ve worked for at least one political candidate in California over the past decade. Fair enuf, though it would have been fun to have a seat at the table.

Maybe I’ll have better luck crashing the constitutional convention if the public pulls the trigger on that next year.

Over at the Fox & Hounds site, Tony Quinn has crunched the numbers on the level of interest in the redistricting commission, which is taking applications up until Feb. 12 (yes, Lincoln’s birthday).

And there are some surprises — the application pool doesn’t seem to be rife with political mercenaries, as you might have feared . . . and the partisan balance of eligible choices is far more Republican, compared to the Democrats’ 14-point edge statewide in registered voters.

Total Applicants: 1,761

Eligible Applicants: 1,683

Partisan Make-up: 32% GOP, 31% Democratic

Keep an eye on the redistricting process as we head deeper into 2010, as it obviously will become a huge political story in 2011 and the aftermath of the previous year’s results.

 The selection panel first has to narrow the field of applicants to 120.  By year’s end, a mere 14 Californians will be tasked with redrawing the lines.

FYI: Here’s a glimpse at the panel deciding who’s naughty and who’s nice, gerrymandering-wise.


Written by Bill Whalen

December 18, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A Christmas Present Steve Jobs Won’t Get — But Deserved

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To the adage that airplane crashes and celebrity deaths occur in groups of three, I’d like to add another category: questionable award choices.

By now, you’re probably sick and tired of the controversy regarding President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize (liberals loved the choice; conservatives liked the acceptance speech). Here on the Stanford campus, the feeling is Toby Gerhart better deserved the Heisman Trophy than Alabama’s Mark Ingraham.

And now, for the Bay Area, let the debate begin over this year’s Time Magazine’s Person of the Year award, which went to Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke instead of someone closer to home.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Carolyn Lochhead reports that Ess Eff’s own Nancy Pelosi was Time’s runner-up, for consolidating “more power than any other [House] Speaker in modern history.”

One wonders if former house Speaker Newt Gingrich, Time’s Person of the Year in 1995, would agree with that sentiment (“Without so much as a decent burial,” Time wrote, “he has killed the old order of American politics.”).

With all due respect, the good folks at Time should have looked about 45 miles to south, to Cupertino and the heart of Silicon Valley. There, they would have found a man arguably more deserving of Time’s award in 2009: Apple CEO Steve Jobs, master of the iPod and iPhone.

Here’s what Time could have written, in praising Jobs for fundamentally changing how the world networks information, places phone calls, and listens to music:

“Every time a seismic shift takes place in our economy, there are people who feel the vibrations long before the rest of us do, vibrations so strong they demand action — action that can seem rash, even stupid. Ferry owner Cornelius Vanderbilt jumped ship when he saw the railroads coming. Thomas Watson Jr., overwhelmed by his sense that computers would be everywhere even when they were nowhere, bet his father’s office-machine company on it: IBM.”

But wait a sec, that’s exactly what Time did write 10 years ago when it honored’s Jeff Bezos as Person of the Year, for being at the forefront of the then-nascent tech revolution.
Personally, I’d like to have seen a thoughtful Time essay about the Apple influence on American culture. 
Thanks to those little white ear buds and snappy devices, we becoming more better entertained and better informed . . . or more isolated in our own information universes — ironically, at a time when the world has never been better, more instantly connected?
Is the emergence of a new “apps economy” — just so much fun and games for 20something engineers, or this decade’s latest revolution in software design? — going to help lift California of its current doldrums?     

But that won’t happen — not for another year, at least (and if you’re betting on Person of the Year for 2010, my early frontrunner is “The Angry Voter”).  Time has made its choice, and we Californians will have to find different ways to spread holiday cheer.

Maybe it’s buying Mr. Jobs one of those “Lebowski” Man of the Year mirrors for his bathroom — available right now at!!


Written by Bill Whalen

December 17, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Five Things to Watch in California in 2010

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2009 is coming to a close – mercifully, it would seem, for California’s ruling class.

That begins at the top of the governing pyramid. The past year was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s annus horribilis. All five of his budget-related measures were rejected in the May special election – not a single one even cracking the 40% barrier.  The summer produced a marathon budget stalemate, made worse by the Governator’s inability to coax his fellow Republicans into cutting a spending deal. On a personal level, Schwarzenegger lost his mother-in-law, Eunice Shriver, obviously a huge guiding force in his life (not to mention a big champion of his running in the recall, while others close to Arnold were less certain). And there were those photos of him and Maria in various auto hijinks

But Schwarzenegger wasn’t the only one who struggled. California’s State Legislature recorded historically low approval ratings. How unpopular is the Legislature? The only ballot measure to survive the May special election was Prop 1F, which prohibits pay raises for lawmakers during deficit years.

Meanwhile, two of the state’s most ambitious mayors saw their upward climbs turn into rapid descents. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, beset by personal scandal and an unsteady support in his home town, passed on a run for governor. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom gave it a shot, but soon dropped out of the race after failing to electrify his party’s donors and the Netroots base. That left one Democrat standing in futuristic, youth-worshipping California: the septuagenarian Attorney General Jerry Brown.

As for California Republicans, the year ended with ominous signs of the party reverting to its familiar routine of circular firing squads, with both the GOP gubernatorial and senatorial primaries holding the potential for bitter personal and ideological insult-fests. Whoever emerges in June will have to figure how to get 90% of the GOP vote, 20% of the Democratic vote and 60% of the independent vote — without seeming too partisan, too ideological or too moderately wishy-washy.

Well, at least California didn’t get the Gitmo detainees.

What lies in store in 2010? Here are five plot lines to follow in the new year.

California’s Economy.  According to a report just issued by California Lutheran University’s Center for Economic Research and Forecasting, voters should get used to the recession and the misery of double-digit unemployment. “We expect California’s economy to continue to contract, slowly, through the first three quarters of 2010,” the report says. “Job growth will lag economic activity. We don’t expect to see California gain jobs until the second half of 2011. Consequently, unemployment will probably remain in double digits through 2011.” Remarkably, the authors of this report also characterized it as their “most optimistic forecast” in recent times. No bucks, to steal a line from the movie “The Right Stuff”, means no Buck Rogers in Sacramento – no fanciful new spending, just lots of fiscal triage. That, in turn, should mean month after month of negative media, just as we saw during 2009 . . . and plenty of pressure on the 2010 candidates to offer specifics, not platitudes, when it comes to where the spend, where to cut, and where to tax-and-fee.

Stay-at-Home Arnold? He’s not on the ballot in 2010, but that won’t stop the governor from being all over the airwaves in the coming year – promoting the open primary initiative, and then the $11.14 billion water bond.  Because it’s his last year in office, keep an eye on how Schwarzenegger balances managing state affairs versus cementing his political legacy. We saw an early preview of this in December. Ordinarily, California governors spend the weeks before Christmas poring over budget options and prepping for the State of the State Address. Arnold, instead, jetted off the Copenhagen to flash his eco-credentials at the global-warming summit.  Can Schwarzenegger stay put in Sacramento during what could be another contentious year with the Legislature, or will he give in to the temptation to add to his “me wall” by ditching the capital and pursue political credit where those are willing to give it?

Whitman’s Green Sampler. Assuming Meg Whitman is the Republican nominee for governor, let’s see how she navigates her way around the issue of the environment.  Already, the former eBay chair has irked the Governor’s Office over her criticism of AB 32, the state’s landmark global-warming bill (Arnold also cares not for Whitman’s call to reduce the state payroll – something he’d do in an instant if it were feasible).  Whitman may be on to something – sensing a public backlash against too much government, too much regulation, and too little job-creation in areas such as the Central Valley and Inland Empire. Or, in risking a war with Schwarzenegger, she makes a powerful enemy of a man whose candidacy in 2003 is little different from her rationale in seeking the same job: I’m an outsider, trust me to clean house. Arnold and Meg: GOP friends or frenemies? Over at the New America Foundation, Arnoldologist Joe Matthews is betting on the big man to endorse Jerry Brown.   

Tea Time? Tempting though it may be to compare 2010 to 1994 (the last time angry voters punished a Democratic president/Congress), here’s the question: come the revolution, does California come along for the ride? Yes, 16 years ago the Golden State was swept up amidst the national GOP movement – Pete Wilson sailed to re-election; Dianne Feinstein came within an inch of losing her Senate seat if not for a scandal involving her opponent’s hiring of an undocumented nanny. Then again, 1994 was a strange year — strange even by Golden State standards — with all sorts of rare occurrences that played into the hands of Republican candidates in California: Three Strikes, Proposition 187, the Northridge quake, O.J.’s arrest.  Will 2010 also be a quirky year, by local standards? And will the California Tea Party movement, so vocal and visible in 2009, translate into a real force at the polls?

Taking Initiative. At last count, per the California Secretary of State’s office, 45 ballot measures are circulating, with another 38 pending at the Attorney General’s office.  Voters, in 2010, won’t have to worry about making sense of more than 80 initiatives — some will get shelved for later cycles, some will disappear into cyberspace, and still others are simply more about bluff and bluster. But a handful of propositions could make for political mischief. That would include another battle over same-sex marriage, legalizing marijuana, calling for a state constitutional convention,  reducing the Legislature to part-time status, ending the two-thirds requirement for legislative tax increases, and redefining fertilized human eggs as “persons” under state law.

 Speaking of things “only in California”: there’s an initiative to ban divorce in California. And, in the holiday spirit of things, there’s an initiative requiring public schools to allow students to listen to or perform Christmas music during the holiday season. We kid you not.

So much for peace on Earth, goodwill toward men . . .

Written by Bill Whalen

December 16, 2009 at 11:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Your Stimulus Dollar$ at Work

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Here’s proof that sometimes there’s no escaping Washington, no matter how far off the beaten path one travels.

This was taken a couple of weeks ago on the Caribbean island of St. John, USVI.  To be specific, about 400 yards from where the ferry lands at Cruz Bay.

Not exactly ground zero for jump-starting the ailing U.S. economy, if you ask me. Then again, when the feds are handing out money faster than they can print it, even the tiniest of territories benefit.

Check out the sign on the right — “Putting America to Work”. For those of you not familiar with the other words on the sign: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is government-speak for the $787 billion stimulus package.

In this case, the money’s going for road-repair work. Heaven forbid an eco-tourist have a bumpy ride in paradise!

Written by Bill Whalen

December 15, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized