Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Archive for April 2010

Can Poizner Come Back?

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This morning’s Orange County Register has this report on Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner’s claim that he’s on the verge of pulling off “the biggest comeback in California history” and surprising frontrunner Meg Whitman in the upcoming Republican gubernatorial primary.

Says Poizner: “You’ve got to note the massive momentum in my direction. I have an excellent chance to win this.”

What he’s referring to is a tightening in the polls. Poizner trailed by nearly 50 points in the Field Poll of a month ago. An Action News/Survey USA poll released last week has him behind by “only” 22 points. Not exactly striking distance, but enough of a closing of the gap to talk about a comeback — and get the media to do the same.

And that, in turn, sends reporters scurrying to the memory vault — to the 2002 gubernatorial primary and the downfall of that year’s early odds-on-favorite, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

In the fall of 2001, per the Field Poll, Riordan held a 41% lead over the relatively unknown Bill Simon. Once the votes were counted, Simon defeated Riordan by 18%, an astounding swing of nearly 60%.

So, with her debate with Poizner just days away,  is Whitman set up to be this year’s Riordan?

I doubt it, and here’s why:

1) Riordan was under attack on more fronts than Whitman — from Simon, fellow gubernatorial hopeful Bill Jones, and incumbent Gov. Gray Davis, who feared going up against Riordan in the November election and thus spent millions in the primary to have Riordan rubbed out. Riordan wasn’t very good in his rapid response — for example, he missed a chance to link Simon and campaign contributions to former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. Whitman, by contrast has given as good as she’s received from Poizner and those pesky Democratic independent expenditure groups — and shows no signs of easing up on the attacks in the remaining month of this primary.

2) Riordan’s toughest opponent . . . was Riordan himself. Gray Davis’ campaign challenged Riordan’s pro-choice credentials — specifically, suggesting he was a flip-flopper by dredging up a tv interview in which Riordan likened abortion to murder. Riordan took the bait, as Team Davis hoped, by defending his moderate credentials and alienating conservative GOP primary voters. Riordan talked about abortion, and gay rights and brow-beat Republicans on the need for a centrist makeover — sorta like being invited to Thanksgiving dinner and lecturing the table on cruelty to turkeys. Whitman doesn’t have the same inconsistency problem, or the inclination to nag. Moreover, her ever-cautious campaign has steered her away from the conservative vs. moderate abyss.

3) Riordan’s style ran 180 degrees from Whitman’s. Ask anyone who worked in his gubernatorial effort. Riordan has done wonderful things for his fellow Angelenos as a mayor, business person, philanthropist and concerned citizen. But as a gubernatorial hopeful, he just didn’t have the same appetite or fire in the belly for state politics. And it showed. Whitman, by contrast, has taken a no-prisoners approach to her first run for public office: record spending, building a deep campaign team, and staying on message.

4) Poizner is not Bill Simon.  Simon benefitted, in his race, from impeccable conservative credentials. While Poizner has positioned himself on the right — illegal immigration, in particular — it’s a complicated sell. Poizner can point to deeds that will delight conservative — his involvement in redistricting reform and killing a Democratic end-run on term limits.  But, at the same time, he has to explain a past record that includes supporting a lower threshold for passing school bonds and writing a $10,ooo check (on his wife’s behalf) to Al Gore’s Florida recount effort.

Circle May 10 in your calendar. By that date, Poizner tells reporters,  “I hope you’re writing a story, ‘This is an unbelievable horse race.’ By Election Day, I hope you’re writing the story, ‘The biggest comeback in the history of California politics.’”

Time will tell . . .


Written by Bill Whalen

April 29, 2010 at 7:37 pm

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California’s $1 Million Fish Story

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You’ve heard of Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere”. Now it’s time to meet California’s $1 million fish ladder.

Actually it’s only $935,000 — what the state’s Department of Transportation wants to spend to pave over part of Dan Blocker State Beach with cement and boulders to help seagoing trout spawn in Southern California streams.

The conduit,  60 feet wide and running 102 feet onto the beach, would create pools allowing the fish to swim under the Pacific Coast Highway, then upstream.

Unfortunately, there are at least two flaws in the state’s thinking — well, three, if you want to get into the seemingly never-ending argument over $1 million for critters (in this case, fish) vs. budget cuts in education and social services.

Problem one: rarely is the cost as advertised.  One $1 million fish ladder already in place may cost $7.5 million in federal stimulus funds to rebuild.

Problem two: even conservationists disagree over whether fish ladders are the best solution to an ecological challenge (critics have argued that ladders along the Columbia River leave salmon too exhausted to spawn).

And there’s one other little detail: a local trout population may be something of a . . . fish story.

Just ask Daniel Forge, who decided to sell part of his Malibu restaurant property after Caltrans — aka, the Department of Transportation — threatened a lawsuit and the use of eminent domain, to bring steelhead trout into the nearby Solstice Creek.  “They decided we were going to bring back steelhead to the stream but I don’t think there were ever any steelhead along there,” Forge said.

Written by Bill Whalen

April 27, 2010 at 8:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Making Abel Use of Maldonado

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Thumbs-up on a Whitman-Maldonado ticket?

Now that he’s been confirmed as California’s lieutenant governor, let’s ponder what’s next for Abel Maldonado, assuming he’s victorious in the Republican “lite guv” primary.

My suggestion: Meg Whitman, assuming she’s at the top of the ticket, should make Maldonado her running mate. Print bumper stickers bearing both candidates’ names. Campaign together in Latino neighborhoods, where Maldonado is comfortable in two languages. Stump together in ag communities, where Maldonado can talk about growing up in a farming family.

This would be an unusual move, by California practices, as gubernatorial nominees usually have little interest in the race one floor down. But there are several reasons why embracing Maldonado would help Whitman — and, in return, Maldonado’s chances of keeping his new job:

1) Bio Balancing Act. You can bet on Jerry Brown’s campaign reminding voters of Whitman’s charmed (they’ll say: privileged) life: Ivy League education, fabulously wealthy, living the good life in Atherton, spending oceans of money to win office. Being in the presence of Maldonado, the eldest son of immigrant Mexican-American farmers who used their family savings to send young Abel to Cal Poly, is a nice rebuttal to the Democrats’ “GOP”, as in “Girl of Privilege”, assault on Whitman. 

2) Experience. Remember when Barack Obama first introduced Joe Biden as his running mate? He cited Biden’s foreign policy savvy, his blue-collar roots, and his willingness to speak his mind (and speak and speak and speak . . . ) with his running mate, if need be. Whitman, who like Obama, isn’t a beer-and-shot kind of candidate, can benefit from a down-to-earth sidekick who not only knows his way around Sacramento, but also has a political independent streak (much to the chagrin of conservative Republicans).

3) Hispanic Media. Blocked by the Assembly in a previous confirmation vote, Maldonado did something quite clever: he camped out in Southern California and worked the local Spanish-speaking media. That made life extremely uncomfortable for the new Assembly Speaker, John Perez, who didn’t want to cause a lasting rift between his party and Hispanic voters over the black-balling of Maldonado. In the fall election, Maldonado once again could work the Hispanic media — this time, to defend the GOP on illegal immigration (should the Dems make that a wedge issue) and the likely shot from the left that Whitman is the second coming of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

4) Whither Jerry and Gavin? Like a chicken fight in a swimming pool, Whitman-Maldonado should welcome a two-on-two matchup with Jerry Brown and (let’s assume) Gavin Newsom. Jerry lives across the Bay, in Oakland. His oft-vague, sometimes centrist candidacy doesn’t need the personal and political baggage Newsom brings from the other side of the Bay Bridge. If I were Whitman, I’d task Maldonado with a very big job responsibility — pension reform, government downsizing, etc. — and challenge Brown to do the same with Newsom. My hunch: the last things the Brown campaign desires is the hyperambitious Newsom nipping at its heels. 

There’s still another five weeks until the primary. Then we’ll see if the GOP is one happy familia — and the concept of a Republican ticket becomes a reality.

Written by Bill Whalen

April 27, 2010 at 6:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

California Capital Punishment: Death, Where Is Thy Sting?

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Death Row, San Quentin Prison


It wouldn’t be an election year in the Golden State without at least one law-and-order candidate bemoaning the fact that “old age is the leading cause of death on California’s death row.”    

If the thought of justice delayed/justice denied sets you off, then you definitely don’t want to read this Associated Press account of California’s frustrations with implementing capital punishment.  

Among the highlights:     

— California added five more inmates to its death row this year, pushing its condemned population past 700 inmates. Florida is second, with 394 inmates on death row; Texas, in third, has 333.     

— It’s now four full years since California’s last execution — Clarence Ray Allen, on Jan. 17, 2006.     

— Allen’s execution was only the 13th in California in the nearly 25 years since the death penalty was allowed to resume.     

— There are have been more suicides on California’s death row than executions.     

The AP story also includes a poster boy for California’s penal absurdity: convicted killer and white supremacist Billy Joe Johnston.     

Last year, Johnson fought for a lethal-injection sentence and not life behind bars at Pelican Bay State Prison. Why? Johnson liked the idea of a larger cell he’d have entirely to himself, access to television, and the delay in meting out his punishment.     

Any chance of this becoming a campaign issues, or is California too embroiled in its financial woes to take notice of this mess?

Written by Bill Whalen

April 26, 2010 at 8:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

“Birthers” Find New Berths

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The matter of Barack Obama and his birth certificate is a story that just keeps going — and, it would seem, a topic that conservatives won’t let go of.

You’re probably familiar with the conspiracy theory put forward by so-called “birthers”: Obama, the son of an American mother and a Kenyan father, wasn’t really born in the United States, they claim. If true, Obama wouldn’t be a natural-born citizen and not eligible to hold the highest office in the land. 

During the course of the 200 campaign, a scanned copy of Obama’s Hawaii birth certificate materialized, as did a couple of newspaper announcements from August 1961 heralding the future president’s arrival. Hawaii’s state health director attested to seeing the document and said it was legit.

Still, the buzz persists.

Earlier this week, Arizona’s House of Representatives signed off on SB 1024. Among other things, it requires Arizona’s Secretary of State to inspect a presidential candidate’s birth certificate before that candidate can qualify for the ballot. Translation: if Obama wants to carry the state in 2012, he’ll need to produce the document.

Similar laws have been proposed in Oklahoma, Florida and Missouri — not a one is state law.

And now, some House Republicans want Congress to follow Arizona’s lead.

HR 1503, the Presidential Eligibility Act, would “amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to require the principal campaign committee of a candidate for election to the office of President to include with the committee’s statement of organization a copy of the candidate’s birth certificate . . . to establish that the candidate meets the qualifications for eligibility to the Office of President under the Constitution.”
Meanwhile, back in the state where the controversy began, Hawaii’s legislature is considering SB 2937. It would allow state government agencies not to respond to follow-up requests for ‘information” (i.e., the President’s birth certificate) if they determine that the subsequent request is duplicative or substantially similar to a previous request.
According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the bill was the idea of Hawaii’s state Health Department, which has had to field almost daily questions about the Obama birth certificate (state law bars release of a certified birth certificate to anyone who does not have a tangible interest).
Still, despite being told the document can’t be released, the requests persist. The Health Department testified it still gets between 10 and 20 e-mails seeking verification of Obama’s birth each week, most of them from outside Hawaii.

btw, the New York Times just completed a poll on the “birther” issue. Its findings: 58% believe Obama was born in the U.S.; 20% believe he was born in another country; 23% didn’t have an opinion.

Written by Bill Whalen

April 22, 2010 at 7:47 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Legalize Marijuana . . . says Big Tobacco?

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Let’s suppose, for a moment, that Californians vote in favor of legalizing marijuana — a ballot initiative doing precisely that awaits the Golden State this November.

The industry winners?

Well, that’s kind of obvious. Think head shops. Plus any business that sells munchies and Pink Floyd CD’s.

Oh, and a whole lotta happy celebrity stoners.

And the losers?

Well, that too is kinda obvious.

When people spend their dollars on joints instead of cigarettes, the big loser is Big Tobacco, right?


As Bruce Watson writes over at AOL’s Daily Finance, tobacco companies have a financial stake in the marijuana industry — in ways you might not know.

— Rolling papers. Republic Tobacco company owns both Top and Job rolling papers; Zig Zags, a French brand, is sold through National Tobacco.

— Blunts. Britain’s Imperial Tobacco Company owns Phillies cigars, a brand that’s popular among cannabis   consumers, who like to empty out the Phillies’ tobacco leaf and refill it with marijuana.

So perhaps the right, which cares not for legalized pot, tries a different spin this fall when the debate over legalized marijuana, er, heats up. And that message: don’t vote for the measure, it only will put more money in the pockets of the tobacco industry.

Meanwhile, in other California marijuana news, Los Angeles District Attorney and Republican Attorney General hopeful Steve Cooley is trying to put pressure on the man he hopes to replace, Jerry Brown, to reject the initiative’s title and summary.

Here’s a good rundown on Cooley’s argument against

Question: how many serious candidates for governor, U.S. Senate or AG (and by “serious”, I mean an actual chance of winning) will endorse this initiative?

I’m guessing: not a one.

Written by Bill Whalen

April 21, 2010 at 7:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Campbell, Taxes and the 2 Toms

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Tom Campbell

Californians are getting two images of Republican Senate hopeful when it comes to taxes.

There’s Terrible Tom, the guy who wants to tax you in the ground.

Or so goes the attack from the American Future Fund, an Iowa-based conservative group that’s spending $1 million for a week’s worth on cable-tv ads denouncing Campbell’s “20-year record of higher taxes and spending”.

That’s the same AFF that went after the Obama Administration and its friends in Congress on health care reform.

The same AFF that may want to get a good lawyer, as the anti-Campbell ad uses the Beatles’ “Tax Man” — a no-no, as far as copyrighted music’s concerned.

For the record, it marks the second time in the Senate primary that  a conservative 501(c)(4) has gone postal — er, video — against Campbell.

The National Organization for Marriage also ran a tv ad last month suggesting Campbell’s no different from Barbara Boxer, given his support of same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, there Transparent Tom, who handed over his tax returns to the San Jose Mercury News and challenged his rivals to follow his lead.

In case you’re curious, Campbell reported an adjusted-gross income of $443,426 (his wife filed separately, to protect her privacy).

Where did he earn his money? $140,283 came from being a visiting law professor at Chapman University; another $12,022 came from Campbell’s last days at UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Campbell also earned $713,105 as a director of the boards of Visa International and FormFactor, a Bay Area semiconductor manufacturer (the candidate resigned from both boards after he decided to run for Senate).

Campbell paid $147,236 in federal taxes and $39,690 in state taxes.

 A potential vulnerability should he win the June primary: he donated only $600 to charity in 2009.

btw, all’s quiet on the western front as far as tax returns go: other than Campbell, no senatorial or gubernatorial candidate has yet to go public with their love notes to the IRS.

Written by Bill Whalen

April 20, 2010 at 9:21 am

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