Whitman vs. Unions: Missiles Away?
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.