Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

Just another weblog

Archive for May 2010

Five Initiatives . . . Which Three Will Pass?

leave a comment »

Over the past two decades, 225 initiatives have qualified for the ballot in California — 40% of them, for primary elections.

64% of those primary initiatives were actually approved by voters (as opposed to a 49% approval rate in general elections).

So with five initiatives set for a thumbs-up or -down in two weeks, and history telling us that three-fifths of primary initiatives succeed, the question is: which three measures on this year’s ballot will get a thumbs-up, and which two will receive a thumbs-down?

Let’s assume that Proposition 13 passes. It stipulates that construction to seismically retrofit buildings won’t trigger reassessment of property-tax value. Sounds simple enough.

Let’s assume that Proposition 17 passes — if for no better reason that it has a clever, deliberately semi-informative/semi-nebulous title (“Allows Auto Insurance Companies to Base Their Prices in Part on a Driver’s History of Insurance Coverage”), not to mention  at least $10 million to spend thanks to one California insurer. 

And, while we’re at it, let’s assume that Proposition 15 goes down in flames.  It’s a tough environment in which to be selling voters on the idea of public financing of political campaigns.

So far: two initiatives yea, one initiative nay.

That leaves two ballots measures, Prop 14 and Prop 16 — in theory, one passing and the other one failing to give us that customary 3-2 score.

If Prop 16 fails, it would be one of the epic financial upsets in state history.

At last count, Pacific Gas & Electric had invested more than $44.2 million to amend the California Constitution so that a two-thirds vote is required before a local jurisdiction can provide cheaper retail power than PG&E.

Meanwhile, the anti-16 campaign has managed to scrape together only $36,000 — making for dollar disparity of roughly $1,227-$1.

Credit: Julia Vann/USC Daily Trojan

So if Prop 16 passes, does that mean Prop 14 is a goner?

Not necessarily, maintains Joel Fox, over at the Fox & Hounds Daily poli-biz blog.
His reasoning:

1) The most recent Public Policy Institute poll has the measure ahead, 60% to 27% lead, with independent voters also strongly behind it, 67% to 19% — and independents stand to play a strong role in state politics this year than they have in previous election cycles.

2) The last time primary reform was up for public discussion (1996’s Proposition 198), it received 60% of the vote.

3)  The best hope of defeating Prop 14 would be rallying both parties’ faithful — the ones who care not for a ‘top-two” primary system. Problem is, turnout may be low among Democrats, what with Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer facing token opposition. And the prevailing negative tone of the Whitman-Poizner primary may convince some GOP loyalists that it’s time to do things differently.


Written by Bill Whalen

May 25, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Generic Congressional Ballot: Republicans by 8

leave a comment »

Republican candidates now hold an eight-point lead (44%-36%) over Democrats in the latest edition of Rasmussen Reports’ Generic Congressional Ballot.

It’s the GOP’s largest lead since the third week of April, when the spread was 10 points. And it ends a springtime narrowing between the two political parties.

According to Rasmussen, a solid plurality (41%) of non-affiliated voters now prefer the generic Republican candidate, while only 20% prefer the generic Democrat.

The last time the Democrats led in the generic head-to-head was June 2009 (a 41%-39( edge). Since, only once (in October) has the power-in-party cracked the 40% barrier.

As for the Republicans, they’ve never fallen under 40% since that June poll. But only once, in the first week of April of this year, did they surpass 46%.

FYI, the generic Democrat enjoyed a double-digit lead in most every survey conducted in the home stretch of the 2008 congressional election. The Dems picked up 21 House seats and 8 Senate seats amidst that anti-Republican smackdown.

But before you’re convinced that this is an exact science: don’t forget 1994’s generic congressional ballot.

The smart people, that year, said the vote was trending in the Democrats’ direction. ABC had the Dems picking up 6 points in the final week, for a 1-point over Republicans. Gallup had it 51-44 Republicans, with a four-point swing toward the Democrats in the final week. NBC gave the GOP a 46-35 lead, with a two-point pickup for the Dems in the final two weeks.

The final results: Republicans gained 54 House seats, 8 Senate seats — and control of both chambers of Congress, much to the chagrin of the first-term Democratic president.

Written by Bill Whalen

May 25, 2010 at 8:05 am

Posted in Uncategorized

CA Senate: Campbell by . . . 15?

leave a comment »

No, it’s not a typo.

A new Daily Kos/Research 2000 survey has Tom Campbell leading the Republican Senate primary at 37%, followed by Carly Fiorina at 22% and Chuck DeVore at 14%.

In general election match ups, Sen. Barbara Boxer leads all three challengers. She’s 7 points ahead of Campbell (47%-40%), and 9 points ahead of both Fiorina and DeVore (respectively, 48%-39% and 47%-38%).

This doesn’t jibe with last week’s PPIC poll, which handicapped the race as Fiorina 25, Campbell 23 and DeVore 16.

Although, interestingly, Daily Kos/Research has Meg Whitman leading Steve Poizner, 46%-36%, in the GOP gubernatorial primary.  And that’s in line with PPIC, which has Whitman ahead, 38%-29%.

Granted, we’re talking about the decidedly liberal Daily Kos, which understands conservative Republicans about as well as W.C. Fields understood the virtues of temperance. Still, it underscores the mystery in this particular three-way freeway.

California’s GOP gubernatorial primary couldn’t be simpler: will a late surge carry Poizner to an upset win, or does Whitman have the right blend of strategy and organizational mechanics to fend off her rival?

But the Senate primary’s a different animal. Can Campbell, a veteran of Senate runs in 1992 and 2000, count on name recognition as a difference maker? Will Fiorina’s financial advantage put her over the top at this late stage? Or will DeVore benefit from an unseen/unanticipated Tea Party surge?  

Meanwhile, we wait for the other big poll — Field — to come out. Back in the 2006 primary, it appeared just four days before the Angelides-Westly vote (for the record, the findings were off base: Field had Westly leading by 1%; he ended up losing by a shade under 5% — a little nugget the Whitman-Poizner runner-up most likely will point out).

The people's choice?

btw, whoever this candidate “Undecided” is, he/she is running  a helluva campaign.

31%, or second place and seven points behind Whitman . . .

36%, or first place and an 11-point lead on the Senate side.

Somewhere, in the Great Beyond, Al Shugart must be wishing that he had another crack at the “none of the above” ballot option.

Written by Bill Whalen

May 24, 2010 at 6:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Washington to the (CA Budget) Rescue?

leave a comment »

Storming the Bastille -- the Tea Party's reaction if the feds bailed out California?


This much we already know about California’s $19.1 billion budget shortfall. 

Spending cuts alone won’t be the final answer — never have a California governor and state lawmakers agreed to cuts of that dimension, and certainly not in one budget cycle. 

Nor will tax cuts alone settle matters. Again, the state has never pulled off a tax increase, on that level, in one fell swoop. To do so in this political environment wouldn’t encourage a mere tea party — but it might inspire an outright storming of the Sacramento Bastille, aka the State Capitol. 

So what’s the answer? 

Most budget-watchers will harken back nearly 20 years ago, to the salad days of Pete Wilson and Willie Brown and their budget fix (btw, with one of three dollars missing, a bigger hole percentage-wise than this year’s exercise) — a fix that was equal parts spending cuts and higher taxes. 

Allow me to float a scenario, to solve the $19 billion dilemma, and it goes something like this: 

1) $6.3 billion in spending cuts; 

2) $6.3 billion in temporary tax and fee increases; 

3) a $6.3 billion bridge loan from Washington. 

There’s actually precedent for item # 3. It’s called the New York City Seasonal Financing Act, which 35 years ago extended a $2.3 billion line of credit to the Big Apple (that’s about $13 billion in today’s dollars). Washington didn’t just give away the money — the loan had to repaid within a year it was made, at a 1% higher rate than Treasury’s borrowing rate, which returned $40 million to the federal coffers. 

New York City, then, was a lot like California today. During the decade leading up to Washington’s intervention, the city’s expense budget—$11.8 billion during the 1974-75 fiscal year—had grown at an annual rate of 12%. However, tax revenues had increased only 4%-5%. 

And, like the current situation in Sacramento, New York’s political ruling class was running out of options.  Higher taxes already had driven businesses to the suburbs. Nearly half of the city’s budget (44%) was propped up by state and federal aid. The city got by on short-term borrowing that, in very little time, had blown a large hole in its budget (NYC’s short-term debt exploded from $747 million in 1969 to $6 billion by early 1975). 

Enter Washington and a temporary fix — but not without its share of drama. 

At first, the Ford Administration shot down the idea of helping NYC void bankruptcy, prompting the New York Daily News’ infamous “Drop Dead” headline. 

Actually, Gerald Ford was neither anti-city nor anti-Gotham (remember, Ford wasn’t all that conservative of a Republican, and he’d appointed Nelson Rockefeller, formerly a New York governor, as his replacement vice president). 

But, by drawing an early hard-line and ramping up the pressure on city leaders to get their act together, Ford succeeded in getting  a far more balanced deal — albeit, one with a lot of moving parts. 

New York’s municipal workers’ unions were talked into contributing to the fix from their pension funds. The city’s banks did their part, by agreeing to refinance city notes and municipal bonds. Meanwhile, city government cracked down on spending and wayward programs. 

And the city got tough on spending and wayward programs. For example, new eligibility forms were mailed to the city’s 338,000 welfare-check recipients, with the choice of verifying their eligibility within 10 days or facing benefit elimination. 

Obviously, much has changed in the past 35 years — especially, the last two years. After bailouts to big banks and auto giants, not to mention at least one European nation, would politicians have the nerve to make a similar move in California’s direction and take the subsequent heat

Then again, I can think of one politician in particular who could benefit from such a power play: Barbara Boxer. 

In the political fight of her life, and trying for a fourth term in Washington, Boxer sorely needs to show she’s relevant to California’s well-being — in other words, that she can deliver for her constituents. And she has to show she’s a senator of substance in Washington — a trait that seems lacking as she takes a back seat to fellow Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman on the cap-and-trade debate, even though the bill is germane to her environmental committee. 

Here’s how Boxer could pitch the California bailout: (1) it’s not  bailout but a temporary loan, with the federal government making money off the interest; (2) the interest will be invested in something that benefits all 50 states — say, infrastructure improvements, green technology or school grants; (3) at $6.3 billion, it’s still half-a-billion less than America’s share of the Greek bailout; (4) if my conservative opponents disagree with me, are they saying that California, the world’s 8th economy, matters less than Greece, which doesn’t even make the top-30 of world GDPs? 

Will any of this see the light of day? I doubt it. California bailout was briefly floated last year, and it didn’t take long for the White House to shoot down the trial balloon. 

Still, it’s fun to speculate. 

As with New York in 1975, the Obama Administration would have to wait until October, right around the World Series and trick-or-treating, when Sacramento’s urgency is giving way to panic. And it would require moving mountains in Congress, where a lot of reluctant members either: (a) care little for California, or (b) care even more about the current anti-incumbency streak brought on, in part, by bailouts and exorbitant federal spending. 

Oh, and other minor detail. For all he did in bringing New York City back from the brink, Gerald Ford lost the state, the following year’s presidential election, to Jimmy Carter. 

So Barack Obama might have little interest in California’s fiscal plight, especially if it brings him only a New York minute’s worth of good will.

Written by Bill Whalen

May 19, 2010 at 2:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Pension Reform? Don’t Count It Out . . . Yet

leave a comment »

An interesting article in the San Jose Mercury News on Governor Schwarzenegger’s determination to pull off public pension reform in this, his last year in office.

Schwarzenegger: a pensive look -- and maybe a pension deal?

Arnold’s opening salvo to legislative Democrats:  work with me to cut back on state workers’ pension and trim current employees’ salaries, or brace yourselves for the unavoidable snip-snip-snip of the public safety net.

The temptation is to dismiss this kind of tough talk (Arnold calls it a “Sophie’s Choice” between reform or cuts) as just so much bluff and bravado — the opening round of a budget dance that’s all but certain to go beyond the July 1 deadline, through the rest of the summer, and perhaps well into the fall.

But if you consider the larger dynamics at play in Sacramento, it’s a smart ploy by the Governor.

First, it’s his last budget. Better to take his time and get it right, and not bull-rush a lousy product sometime in late July or early August. The longer the Governor takes, the more pressure he puts on the Legislature — the guys and gals with the far worse approval rating, and the ones whose names are on the ballot (unlike the Governator).

Second, Arnold has leverage in any deal regarding pension reform — leverage that didn’t exist that in the 2005 special election and last time he got into a slugfest with public employees.

That difference: it’s called the public’s growing exasperation with story after story of generous retirement benefits and pension obligations devouring city (and, soon, the state’s) budgets – not to mention the Legislature’s inability to deal with the growing crisis.

Ironically, it’s a reversal of how Schwarzenegger entered office. Back in the post-recall heyday, with a big man flexing not only big muscles but soaring approval ratings, the Legislature feared initiative showdowns with the new governor.

Schwarzenegger knew this, and he used it to his political advantage. Take the case of one of the big tickets in his recall campaign: workers’ compensation reform. Given the choice of working with Schwarzenegger on workers’ comp, or settling their differences via  the ballot box, lawmakers caved (for the record, Arnold got the support of 110 of the 116 lawmakers who cast a vote on SB 899, his workers’ comp package).

Schwarzenegger could attempt the same ploy this fall, assuming the budget goes deep into extra innings: pitch lawmakers on working with him to pass pension reform, or convince them he’s serious about taking matters straight to voters in the form of a ballot proposition.

Why would Democrats do this, given the Arnold’s approval rating hovers somewhere in Gray Davis Country? They just might — if the choice is (a) working with Arnold and getting a compromise deal (btw, probably a better deal than they’d get with Meg Whitman or Steve Poizner), or (b) being forced to spend millions in an initiative battle, and having to defend a pension system that’s becoming ever more indefensible.

Leverage, it’s a funny thing. And in politics, it comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes — even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.

Written by Bill Whalen

May 18, 2010 at 6:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

M4 Poll: Whitman by 17

leave a comment »

Still waiting for the big-name polls — Field and PPIC — to come out with their latest numbers in California’s heated Republican gubernatorial primary.

Meanwhile, here’s a new set of numbers to chew on, courtesy of M4 Strategies of Costa Mesa, which polls for the Small Business Action Committee.

The results?

Meg Whitman 49%, Steve Poizner 31.5%.

In February, the same poll had Whitman leading, 60%-12%.

Bottom line: both campaigns will spin the numbers their way — for Whitman, a less alarming double-digit lead; for Poizner, a narrowing divide.

Some more poll math:

Whitman’s favorable rating was 54.5%; her unfavorable was 26.8%.

For Poizner, it’s 38.5% favorable; 33.8% unfavorable.

Written by Bill Whalen

May 17, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Poizner’s Latest: Old Issue, Good Timing

leave a comment »

An old issue -- her voting record -- could cause new problems for Meg Whitman

At first glance, you might wonder why Steve Poizner’s campaign decided to dredge up the issue of Meg Whitman’s spotty voting record.  In a new tv ad, he claims she didn’t bother to vote for 28 years — an allegation Team Whitman denies.

It’s not as if Poizner is breaking entirely new ground here. You might recall that she was raked over the coals, over the very same topic, at last fall’s state party convention — a bad press conference that turned into several days of more bad coverage as the Whitman campaign tried to sort through her voting past (or lack thereof).

“I was focused on raising a family, on my husband’s career, and we moved many, many times,” she told reporters at the time. “It is no excuse. My voting record, my registration record, is unacceptable.”

Does this signify a fork in the road — that Team Poizner has run out of ammo, with nearly a month to go until the June 8, is serving warmed-over leftovers?

No, just the opposite, a very smart (and, btw, politically unaligned) friend of mine explains.

The thinking goes like this: Poizner deliberately reintroduced the Whitman voting record literally at the very same moment absentee ballots are arriving in voters’ mailboxes. Not coincidentally, those are the same voters probably most motivated by this issue — they read their voter information guides word for word, they put serious thought into their ballots, they’re offended by the thought of a candidate taking a voting siesta for 28 years.

Poizner probably knows that. Let’s assume he’s also smart enough to know that the Whitman campaign can do precious little other than argue his attack ad’s specifics. By claiming she was too busy to vote, Whitman risks offending middle-class voters who live a far different lifestyle — not to mention every woman who takes pride in her multitasking. By taking it up with the press, she risks turning her voting record into a multi-day story, which is what occurred last September when the candidate and her campaign couldn’t get their facts straight.

Arnold: also a voting latecomer

At this point, Whitman supporters may want to cry foul — or, at least, double standard. I don’t remember Governor Schwarzenegger catching this much heat, back in the 2003 recall race, over his inability to exercise his democratic right (reporters did their digging and discovered that Arnold hadn’t voted in 5 of the previous 11 statewide elections).

But Schwarzenegger had something going for him back then, as a newcomer, that Whitman doesn’t in this go-round. By the time of that first gubernatorial effort, he already had sponsored a statewide initiative (the after-school Proposition 49, in November 2002 election).  And, in the year leading up to that contest, Arnold had privately and publicly flirted with the idea of challenging Gray Davis — to the point where a Schwarzenegger candidacy in 2006 was more expected than not.

The point is: Arnold’s voting record, like Whitman’s, was a liability. But he had an activist record to fall back on (after-school programs, Special Olympics, President’s/Governor’s Councils on Physical Fitness.  She doesn’t. And, coupled with the vast personal fortune she’s invested in her candidacy (another $5 million this week, pushing the total to $64 million), and that makes her campaign look all the more mercenary.

Any guesses how Whitman will counter Poizner’s latest attack?

Written by Bill Whalen

May 14, 2010 at 6:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized