Archive for June 2010
“Water, water everywhere . . .”
. . . But not on the November ballot, if the Legislature follows Gov. Schwarzenegger’s lead and opts to move Proposition 18, the $11.14 billion water bond, to the 2012 cycle (it would require a 2/3 majority of the Legislature, thus creating some Sacramento pretzel logic: Democrats would be voting to table a bill they want here and now; Republicans would be voting to breathe into new life into a bill they detest).
Why the sudden move?
The Governator says it’s because the bond is too important to have its outcome affected by the stalled budget process (California’s state now officially one day overdue, having missed the pre-July deadline for getting a new spending plan in place by end of California’s 2009-10 fiscal year).
And that raises the prospect of budget talks that coul drag toward Labor Day . . . past the kickoff of football season . . . toward . . . Halloween? Ok, maybe that long. But I would choose the Oct. 9 USC-Stanford football game as a good place to put an over-under on when the budget deal is finally cut.
But getting back to water politics . . .
Backing away from Prop 18 makes sense, as it lightens Arnold’s load. For in addition to settling the budget impasse, Schwarzenegger also will be orchestrating the campaign to defeat Proposition 23 which would roll back AB 32, California’s global-warming bill of four years ago and one of Schwarzenegger’s prize accomplishments.
Besides, he probably was looking at a grim outcome: in the present political climate, Prop 18 (aka, the Safe, Clean and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010) was cruising for a November bruising. The measure embodied the worst of California’s political process. It was stealthy (a back-room special). It was wasteful (about $2 billion in pork). It was a crazy-quilt of special interests.
And, in a foul-mood election, Prop 18 numerically would have been the first of the ten initiatives on the November ballot, thus making it an inviting target for an angry “no”.
Which begs the question:
If Prop 18 was destined to fail, why aren’t we seeing more California lawmakers either on the verge of getting the heave-ho, or seeking early retirement?
Could it be that the 100 State Assembly and Senate districts are all so cleverly designed — and all so blast-proof?
Could it be that the mainstream of the California electorate — not the safety-net or government contractors but middle-class taxpayers — really isn’t all that affected by stalled budgets. Remember: schools are still open; state parks don’t close; cops are still on the street.
The answer is Sacramento lawmakers are a protected species. But the institution itself is in trouble. Look back a year ago, to the special election and the six measures on that ballot. The first five of those, Props 1A-E, were cooked up by the Governor and the Legislature. Only one (Prop 1B, addition funding for primary education) managed to crack the 38% barrier).
But there was one winner on the ballot: Prop 1F. It received 74% support. Its promise: no pay raises for lawmakers during deficit years.
Earlier this year, voters gave the California State Legislature a record-low 9% approval rating. As you read this, lawmakers have been given a pass to go back to their home districts for July, and not hang around the State Capitol and get nowhere fast on the budget stalement.
The good news: taxpayers won’t have to cover those $142 per diem living expenses that lawmakers collect while on the job in Sacramento. The bad news: some voters will conclude that legislators would rather work on their summer tans than the budget.
Thus stoking the argument for something ominous headed the Legislature’s way: a demotion to part-time status.
Unless they could do something miraculous, like passing on budgets on time. Which is about as likely as turning water into wine.
The real action will be going on behind the scenes, with campaigns in a last-minute frenzy to collect as much money as possible before the June 30th deadline for second-quarter fundraising reports.
Why Fiorina? Well, she’s one of Republicans with, in my opinion, a better-than-average chance of winning their statewide race (the others being Meg Whitman, Abel Maldonado and Steve Cooley).
And, of the factors that go into her race (biography, issues, voters’ mood, etc.), money is the one area in which Fiorina seems to be at a sore disadvantage against Boxer.
Reportedly, as of last week, Boxer had a 2-1 edge in fundraising over Fiorina: $16.3 million for the Democratic incumbent vs. $7.3 million for the GOP challenger.
Complicating things: federal campaign contributions limits. It’s $2,400 a pop for donors in the general election, compared to the $25,900 ceiling for non-federal California statewide races.
Moreover, while Fiorina’s a well-to-do former CEO who’s already loaned millions to her campaign, it’s not like she has Meg Whitman’s wealth. Then again, who does?
That partly explains why Fiorina was in the nation’s capital earlier this week: to shake the money tree. She needs to narrow the financial gulf before summer gives way to fall, and television advertising commences. And Fiorina needs a healthy round of fundraising to give some oomph to the impression that she’s a strong challenger and Boxer’s a weak incumbent.
Her campaign’s trying to pull in $250,000 in on-line donation before tonight’s deadline (a game both parties have become fond of playing, ever since Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown’s shocked the political world with his $1.3 million “money bomb” in his special-election victory earlier this year).
And, like Fiorina, Boxer’s relying on kindness beyond the Golden State.
In addition to two presidential fundraisers this year, she’s receiving help from her Senate colleagues. That includes Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, who sent an e-mail to his supporters, asking them to show a little love (and a lot of $$$) for his friend from California.
“Barbara led the fight to stop drilling in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She repealed the luxury tax on alternative fuel vehicles and helped secure federal funding to provide electric vehicles for the U.S. Military.
And she worked closely with me to ensure that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was the largest single investment in clean energy infrastructure in history – simultaneously moving our country forward and saving or creating millions of jobs nationwide.”
Strong words, and a strong embrace of the massive spending that voters supposedly are up in arms against — from a senator not up for re-election until 2014.
History shows that on April 23, 1975, then-President Gerald R. Ford delivered a televised address pronouncing an end to America’s involvement in Vietnam (“a war that is finished as far as America is concerned,” Ford declared). A week later, the last helicopter took off from the U.S. embassy in Saigon.
Since then, Vietnam has flared up in various ways in various political campaigns. Think Dan Quayle’s and George W. Bush’s National Guard Service. Or Bill Clinton’s draft maneuvering. Or the “swift-boating” of John Kerry. Or John McCain’s stay in the Hanoi Hilton.
So here we are, 25 years and two months after the last flight out of Saigon, with the Vietnam War alive and kicking in California’s governor’s race. Or so believes the Los Angeles Times, which on Sunday would have you believe that Meg Whitman’s campaign is purposely reopening that wound to portray Democrat Jerry Brown as little more than Wavy Gravy in wing-tips.
Here’s an excerpt from the Times’ story:
“Television screens in California last week were filled with pictures that looked like finds from a time capsule. A McGovern poster. Peace signs. Woodstock-esque views of young people having fun doing who knows what. A war helicopter, vaguely reminiscent of the Vietnam era, arcing sharply as if to avoid fire.
It was not an ad for a documentary on the 1960s or some PBS show on the Vietnam War. It was an ad for Meg Whitman’s campaign for governor.
On one level, the ad was meant to portray Democratic nominee Jerry Brown as a doddering has-been, the political equivalent of the almost-extinct machine it also pictured, the record turntable. On another level, however, it was dredging up the turbulent past in hopes of gaining political advantage.”
With all due respect to Cathleen Decker, the story’s author, I think she misses the purpose of the ad (click here, to judge yourself). In a word, it’s “failure” — having you, the viewer, believe that Brown couldn’t cut it as a governor, a senatorial or presidential candidate, or mayor of Oakland.
Sure, there’s a generational aspect — the needle on the phonograph, the 70s duds and the dated headlines — but that’s just a roundabout way of pointing out that it’s Pat Brown’s son, not his grandson, running in 2010.
I think the ad serves one other purpose: by pointing out all the campaigns, the controversies and Brown’s seemingly restless routine over the past 40 years as someone more interesting in running than sitting in place, it’s meant to chip away at Democrat’s attempt to re-brand himself as the true outsider in this contest (as Brown puts it, “someone with an insider’s knowledge but an outsider’s mind”).
But let’s get back to the question of tapping into Vietnam-era unrest as a campaign tactic.
If the real purpose behind this and future ads is to mobilize older voters against Jerry, then why not try something that literally hits closer to home for many Californians — i.e., his mixed feelings back in the late-1970s toward Proposition 13 (Brown at first called Howard Jarvis’ idea a “rip-off” . . . until it passed by a 2-1 margin, after which then-Gov. Brown became a booster of the tax-limiting measure).
I can see the Whitman campaign using plenty of ’70’s lyrics at their rival’s expense (“running on empty . . . running blind” (Jackson Browne) . . . “He’s a complicated man and no one understands him but his woman” (Isaac Hayes) . . . “got ants in my pants and I want to dance” (James Brown)).
But Jerry and Vietnam? “Apocalypse Brown”? Perhaps that’s a stretch.
Tons of stories today about West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd who passed away earlier this morning.
Byrd, 92, was the longest-serving senator in America history. He was also the chamber’s resident historian, orating on the Roman version of our deliberative body and pointing out the differences between a republic and a democracy. He was a fierce defender of U.S. Constitution. Few senators were as effective at funneling federal largesse back to their home states. And there was the matter of the late senator’s personal evolution — Byrd in his later years renouncing his past association with the Ku Klux Klan and opposition to civil rights reform.
His death also impacts the Senate’s ability to pass the Wall Street reform bill, by potentially leaving Democrats 1 vote shy of a filibuster-proof majority.
I was a political journalist, in a past life, in Washington D.C. And I was fortunate enough to have met Byrd on at least two occasions.
My first encounter came in July 1987, when Byrd was six months into his new role as Senate Majority Leader — the Democrats having taken back the chamber in the previous year’s election.
The new Leader was in a tough spot. In a 54-46 Senate he needs six Republican votes to avoid filibusters. And Republicans, already preparing for the next election, were in no mood to play ball (including Bob Dole, who was running for president).
Moreover, Byrd wanted the Senate to move at a pace not to his colleagues’ liking. He insisted on sessions lasting into Friday night, a concept none too pleasing to western senators who had grown accustomed to blowing out of town on Thursday evenings. At one point, Byrd even kept the chamber open for business on a Saturday.
Clearly, Byrd reveled in the politics of being top boss. Or so it seemed from talking to him. “We’re going to do our job,” he said in an interview, “and it isn’t whether or not we get out in early October. The question is: are we going to conduct the business of the people.”
And he made it clear whom he thought was in charge: “I have to look at the country’s business and this party of mine is in charge of the Senate. The [Reagan] White House doesn’t dictate the agenda any longer and that’s been a little difficult for the White House to understand.”
One wonders where the Senate would be today if the current Majority Leader, Harry Reid had the same attitude.
Four years later, I had a second interview with the late senator — this time, not as pleasant.
By 1991, Byrd was no longer Majority Leader. George Mitchell now held the job.
Byrd was now Senate President Pro Tem and chairman of the all-powerful Appropriations Committee, a post in which he promised to be West Virginia’s “billion-dollar industry” (“I want to put in Appropriations bills at least one billion dollars [for West Virginia] during my first six years as chairman . . .,” he told the folks back home).
And shower the state he did: federal money for courthouses, prisons, radio telescopes, jobs training centers, ballistics labs and Fish & Wildlife training centers. Not to mention the occasional effort to relocate a few thousand CIA workers to the Mountaineer State (an idea not wildly received by then-CIA Director Robert Gates).
The funny thing was: Byrd had no qualms with what he was doing. To the point that, rather than do an interview over the phone, he invited me down to his Senate office. And, in a conversation sprinkled with a few “young mans” and “you should know better”, he let me know that there was nothing wrong with a senator looking out for his own. And, as if to underscore the point, he delivered this oration sitting behind a desktop of 6×8 index cards, each containing information on his constituents.
Of course, this was before the 24/7 news cycle and the current backlash and federal pork and rising deficits. Then again, Byrd literally was a senator-for-life.
Two last notes: with Byrd’s passing, Hawaii’s Daniel Inouye takes over as the Senate’s elder statesman (his tenure going back to January 1963). Inouye would have to serve another 4 years to equal Byrd’s record of 51-plus years.
And, if you want to learn more about Byrd, he wrote a first-rate autobiography (“Child of the Appalachian Coalfields”) of what it’s like to grow up in an impoverished corner of America.
Now that former Alaska Gov. and possible 2012 candidate Sarah Palin has made her much-anticipated visit at CSU-Stanislaus, let’s look at the damage.
Better yet, let’s look at why Palin herself is the cause of so much controversy.
In case you missed it, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate came to California last Friday to lend her talents (at an undisclosed price) to help raise money for the CSU Stanislaus Foundation, as part of the college’s 50th anniversary.
The speech itself wasn’t all that noteworthy — in fact, this story is pretty much par for the course; it spends little time on what she said (civic education and freedom of speech were two themes) and far more on the bigger dust-up surrounding the guest of honor . . . kinda like Pig-Pen in “Peanuts”.
But, oh, the collateral damage!
Local protestors showed up for the event — or, more precisely, they were there to get on the early evening news, leaving not too long after the tv feeds ended.
Up north from Turlock, in Sacramento, the State Assembly’s Higher Education Committee passed a bill demanding more transparency from groups that perform government functions at California’s higher ed campus. This, after students claimed to have found pieces of Palin’s appearance contact after a round of dumpster-diving.
Meanwhile, the state’s political press corps wrote the obligatory “Palin: Asset or Liability” stories about her endorsement of Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina.
This much fuss you arguably won’t find about most any other politician in America, not even President Obama.
So why Sarah Palin?
My theory: it’s because she’s a walking, talking metaphor for so many contentious aspects of modern politics.
Think “Six Degreees of Kevin Bacon” and filmdom, and apply the same rules to Palin and politics. You don’t have to go far to find many of the rhetorical cul de sacs that divide folks.
Is Palin smart enough to be the leader of the Free World? Welcome back to the same back-and-forth that divided the nation from 2001 to 2009, when the left argued that the Harvard-MBA president was a dunce . . . which segues to Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama as bright but feckless . . . which segues to Reagan and Eureka College, and so forth.
Is Palin hellbent on destroying the nation? Welcome to the current argument, made by the right, that the Obama Administration is Chicago-style European socialism . . . which segues to conservatives and fascism . . . and LBJ and FDR and centralized government, and so forth.
Is Palin unfairly treated by the media (including these reporters caught snickering during her remarks). Welcome to the argument, put forward by the right for decades, that the mainstream media are left-leaning and biased . . . which segues to Fox News vs. MSNBC, and the Wall Street Journal vs. the New York Times, and so forth.
Is a gun-toting, pro-like Mama Grizzly conservative woman really . . . a woman? Welcome to the same argument over whether conservative African-Americans and Latinos are true to their group. whether a gay man or woman can really be a Republican, and so forth.
And on it goes . . .
Clearly, controversy will follow Palin at least for as long as she’s the subject of presidential speculation. Yet, that works for her in this current environment, much in the same that controversy means bigger books sales for Ann Coulter. It may limit her ceiling a year or two from now should she actually run for the White House, but for now she’s laughing all the way to the bank.
As for California and this year’s Senate race, I don’t think the issue is Palin as a vote-loser for Fiorina.
Sure, she doesn’t help with independents. But odds are a voter who sides against Fiorina based on a Palin visit earlier that summer likely wasn’t going to vote Republican anyway. Besides, this isn’t condition unique to either Palin or California. Keep an eye on Arkansas later this fall, when struggling incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln campaigns alongside Bill Clinton, but avoids being seen with the current guy in the Oval Office.
Here’s the bigger problem, in my opinion: as the Turlock visit showed, a one-day visit from Palin can easily morph into a week of coverage. And for a challenger’s campaign in an uphill effort (which if Fiorina’s situation), that’s a week it can’t afford to lose — i.e. a week when none of the coverage pertained to making the case for unseating Barbara Boxer.
Such controversy tires voters, much in the same way that so-called “Clinton Fatigue” may have contributed to Hillary’s demise as a presidential contender. And a tired voter? Well, they might not vote Republican. They might not vote Democratic. They just might not vote at all.
And in an anti-incumbent year, that’s bad news for the challenger.
One of the biggest sins in a life post-government is regression. That is, giving in to the temptation to romanticize the past and assume that your old boss/office/administration, though it be long out of power, could better handle a present-day crisis.
I try to avoid this (publicly at least) when thinking about my days working for Pete Wilson when he was California’s 36th governor. But in watching President Obama’s Oval Office address Tuesday night, and two months into his mostly shaky handling of the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, I keep thinking of a past California disaster — the January 1994 Northridge Earthquake — and Wilson’s handling of the situation as a model for Obama and others to follow.
Unlike President Obama, Wilson was on top of the situation not days but hours after the quake — flying down from Sacramento setting up camp in L.A., and huddling with top advisors to come up with a plan and a course of action (granted, this is a luxury governors and not presidents can afford).
There was no prolonged deliberation or delegation, as seems the Obama style. No relying on Nobel recipients to come up with smart ideas. Just a lot of common sense applied to a common purpose.
Wilson also avoided a trap which this President hasn’t: getting sidetracked by big issues. Instead of pontificating about something larger and loftier — say, seismic retrofitting of buildings up and down California or smart-growth strategies along fault lines — Wilson kept the focus on the immediate task at hand.
Namely, getting the Southland up and running, asap.
And so began days and weeks of unmistakable gubernatorial action: suspending construction rules and red tape, setting up permit assistance centers, building weather shelters, cracking down on crooked contractors and suspending tax laws that unjustly punished owners of rebuilt homes.
The results: pretty impressive. The Santa Monica Freeway was re-opened in just 66 days,a full 74 days ahead of schedule. So too were sections of I-5 and the Simi Valley Freeway opened ahead of schedule.
I mention all of this neither to take a partisan swipe at President Obama or to excessively fawn over my old boss. The larger point would be that the BP oil spill underscores a weakness in this President’s make-up: a lack of executive experience, and a lack of familiarity with crisis management (other than Rev. Wright and healthcare reform).
In theory, this is why governors make such strong presidents, having faced disasters (natural and man-made) during their state Capitol years. They understand best how to react to a crisis — by being focused, hands-on and pro-active (though that kind of gubernatorial experience helped George W. Bush in the days after the 9/11 attack but not so much during the federal response to Hurricane Katrina).
Sadly, I believe this ties into a cancer affecting government at all levels, it seems: core competence.
A president who talks about energy policy, while the other half of the tv screen shows spewing oil, doesn’t exude confidence. Nor does the thought of task forces, blue-ribbon commissions, and big-brain group-think.
There’s nothing like a spinning wheel in a big puddle of oil.
A skeptical public, watching the oil slick spread and the well continue to go uncapped, may be echoing Casey Stengel’s lament:
“Can’t anybody here play this game”?
Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Or so Jerry Brown seems to believe — and show in the opening days of post-primary California.
Less than a week into the general election in the race to be the next governor of the Golden State, Brown has wasted no time in attacking Republican Meg Whitman on not one but two fronts where presumably Brown would seem more vulnerable: a peripatetic nature, and White House ambitions.
The first salvo came before all the votes were tallied, with Brown saying this at his victory primary:
“It’s not enough for someone rich and restless to look in the mirror one morning and decide, ‘I want to be governor of California.’ We tried that. It didn’t work.”
Hmm. Restless. As in: someone with a long history of looking (or running) for something else to do?
As for presidential dreams, that came up when Brown literally ran into a Bay Area reporter while going for a jog up in the Oakland Hills.
Call it a runner’s high, or a blood-sugar low, but Brown apparently views a heavy-spending Whitman as a dual threat: America’s first woman president, and wanting to bring brown shirts back into style:
“It’s like Goebbels. Goebbels invented this kind of propaganda. He took control of the whole world. She wants to be president. That’s her ambition, the first woman president. That’s what this is all about.”
Maybe Brown is indeed convinced that Whitman has presidential aspirations. After all, he’s seen that movie — heck, he was the leading man in three productions.
First there was 1976, only two years into his first as California’s governor, when Brown jumped into Democratic presidential primary. For his troubles, he picked up about 300 delegates and finished a distant third behind Jimmy Carter.
Four years later, in 1980, Brown gave the White House another shot — this time, taking on his party’s sitting president. Running on a theme of “protect the Earth, serve the people and explore the universe”, Brown’s campaign ended up lost in space. He raked in only 10% of the vote in that year’s New Hampshire, and crashed and burned in the Wisconsin primary.
His campaign’s fatal blow: the decision to go live on the air in Wisconsin on the eve of the primary, with a 30-minute tv spot produced by Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola called his opus “The Shape of Things to Come”, stealing liberally (pun intended) from the story of the same title by H.G. Wells, about the future of the world through the year 2106.
Here’s what viewers saw: a graphic that read “Live from Madisno” [sic] and a candidate whose wireless microphone didn’t work. Brown aides likened it to Claude Raines’ star turn in “The Invisible Man”. Reporters called it “Apocalypse Brown.” Brown’s campaign indeed had crashed and burned – kinda like the smell of napalm in the morning.
The tale of the tape for 1980: $2 million spent, o wins, 1 delegate.
As for the 1992 presidential run, the theme was “take back America from the confederacy of corruption, careerism and campaign consulting in Washington”.
So why would Brown want to dredge up the idea of presidential ambitions?
Perhaps, by putting the focus on Whitman, he keeps the spotlight off himself (and, yes, the idea of Brown going after another sitting Democratic president in 2012). Or, at least, he drags her into the conversation when blogs like this start traipsing down memory lane.
And he begins the campaign the way you might expect: with less money to spend and less of an organization around him, Brown will run an insurgent campaign — well, “insurgent” in the sense that he’ll take pot shots at Whitman, try to keep her on the defensive and keep her campaign off-balance.
As for the idea that Whitman is the “restless” one in the race, let’s look at the resumes.
1) Brand manager, Procter & Gamble
2) Consultant, Bain & Company
3) V.P./Strategic Planning, Disney
4) President, Stride Rite
5) CEO, FTD
6) GM, Hasbro Playskool Division
7) CEO, eBay
8) Gubernatorial candidate
1) Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees
2) California Secretary of State
3) California Governor (1975-1983)
4) U.S. presidential hopeful (1976)
5) U.S. presidential hopeful (1980)
4) U.S. Senate hopeful (1982)
5) Soul-searching nomad in exile (Japan and India, 1980s)
6) California Democratic Party Chair
7) U.S. Senate hopeful (1991)
8) U.S. presidential hopeful (1992)
9) Radio talk-show host
10) Oakland Mayor
11) California Attorney General
12) Gubernatorial candidate
That’s 40 years, 16 runs for office, and a search for relevance and acceptance that’s taken him from Sacramento to Iowa and New Hampshire, all the way to the other side of the Pacific Rim, and now back to Sacramento.
As for Whitman, it’s 7 stops in the private sector over the course of 30 years, and now the one run for public office.
You decide which one looks they’d rather be running than staying put.