Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Archive for February 2010

Boxer Now Officially a Fighter

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In other non-Tiger-related news this Friday: California Sen. Barbara Boxer is now officially going for a fourth term, filing her Declaration of Candidacy and nominating petitions earlier today.

That she’s a candidate isn’t a surprise. Where she did it is: at the Riverside County Registrar of Voters office in Riverside, the heart of California’s Inland Empire, which is chock full of independent-minded voters who’ve fled east from Los Angeles for more affordable housing and, presumably, a better quality of life.

Why not Marin County? Well, for openers, Boxer left the Bay Area (physically, not spiritually) in 2006 for the decidedly warmer climes of Rancho Mirage (average daily temperature: 88 degrees Fahrenheit).

Second, it’s that Bay Area baggage — too liberal, too out of touch with working-class California — that Boxer must avoid in this, potentially her most difficult run since her first Senate campaign of 18 years ago. Unlike past election years, Boxer can’t count on a big Democratic win at the top of the ticket, as was the case in 1992, 1998 and 2004. That, plus the nation’s anti-Washington/anti-incumbent mood, puts the senator on shaky political ground.

Thus today’s announcement lacked much of the usual Boxer flair — abortion rights, women’s equality, social injustice. As with President Obama, campaigning today in Nevada for beleaguered Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the message du jour was jobs.

Jobs, jobs, jobs . . .

“I only have one goal, to get California back on track by creating jobs and making life better for the people that I represent,” said Boxer.  “That is what I have always done, and that is what I will always do. It will be tough, regardless of who my eventual opponent will be, but we’re ready, and we’re excited.”

Ironically, one of Boxer’s opponents was also scheduled to be in the neighborhood today. Republican Carly Fiorina is slated to be the keynote speaker at the Lincoln Club of Riverside County’s annual dinner in . . . yes, Riverside.

Which goes to show that the new hot spot in California contests — and the place where the Senate race could be decided — just could be the Inland Empire.


Written by Bill Whalen

February 19, 2010 at 7:53 pm

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Arnold Beichman, 1913-2010

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One of the great pleasures of being affiliated with the Hoover Institution is the opportunity to be near those who literally changed the course of history (George Shultz, the late Edward Teller), as well as remarkable men and women who embodied so much of the drama and change this world has witnessed this past century.

One such person was Arnold Beichman, a reporter, columnist, and Hoover research fellow — and an unwavering voice against the evils of communism during the darkest days of the Cold War.

Arnold passed away yesterday in Pasadena. He was 96. 

John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, wrote this moving tribute to Arnold. I’ll let his words do the talking.

Written by Bill Whalen

February 18, 2010 at 6:17 pm

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California First Lady . . . Zsa Zsa Gabor?

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What’s a California gubernatorial contest without a splash of celebrity – especially one with a German accent?

Earlier today, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, the eighth husband of actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, announced he’s running for the top job in Sacramento. But not as a Democrat or a Republican. He’ll give it a go as a Liberal Independent. His campaign slogan: “Return the Good Life to California”.

Yes, it’s the same Prince Frederic who claimed he had a decade-long affair with the late Anna Nicole Smith and might have been the father of her baby daughter. And the same “prince” whose royal credentials are, shall we say, a little suspect (according to British press accounts, he was born Robert Lichtenberg, the son of a German policeman, and bought his title after being adopted as an adult by a bankrupt daughter-in-law of the last German kaiser!)

Imagine that: a politician who lies . . .

So what would the prince (campaign website: do if he became King of California?

He says he wants to legalize marijuana and tax it . . .

As well as legalize prostitution . . .

Overturn Proposition 8 . . .

Open borders to Mexico for workers and tax them . . .

Promote natural gas and other alternative energies . . .

And (this might earn him my vote): lift the import ban on Cuban cigars (he might want to check with the White House on that one . . .).

“I’ve been in this country 26 years, and I’ve learned one thing: you have to be famous to win elections,” the Prince said in a recent interview. “If you’re not famous, but you’re filthy rich, forget about it. And fame is one thing I already have,” he proclaims. “I am able to talk to people differently. I won’t give them bull—-. And they will respect that.”

Sounds a little like Arnold Schwarzenegger ca. the 2003 recall, doesn’t it?

Written by Bill Whalen

February 17, 2010 at 12:26 am

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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

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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

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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

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