Archive for July 2010
At least once in every California campaign cycle, it seems, an initiative gets “Draper-ized”.
That’s a word I just made up to describe what happens when a ballot measure runs afoul of the Democratic power structure in Sacramento. It’s a reference to Tim Draper, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist who back in November 2000 ran Proposition 38, which proposed $4,000 vouchers for families that opted to shift their kids from public to private schools.
The Draper Initiative was an uphill climb to begin with. Two years earlier, former Gov. Pete Wilson tried and failed to get the reform-heavy Prop 8 passed. Even some within the Silicon Valley ed community — most notably, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings — disagreed with Draper’s approach.
But the death-blow came from, all places, the state Attorney General’s office.
In California, it’s the AG who decides the title and summary language for ballot measures. In this case, then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer (a veteran Sacramento pol and longtime friend of the state’s teachers’ unions) did the dirty deed. And all Lockyer did was describe Draper’s measure in most unflattering terms starting with this verbage:
“School vouchers. State-funded private and religious education. Public School Funding. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.
— Authorizes annual state payments of at least $4,000 per pupil for private and religious schools phased in over four years.
— Restricts state and local authority to require private schools to meet standards, including state academic requirements.
— Limits future health, safety, zoning, building restrictions on private schools.”
Religion . . . restricted authority . . . limited health and safety restriction. Good luck getting that passed. Indeed, Yes on 38 received less than one-third of the vote.
Now, let’s skip forward a decade to the 2010 election. This year’s early frontrunner for “Draper-ized” initiative: Proposition 23, which aims to suspend California’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act (aka, AB 32).
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Jerry Brown has chosen this language for the ballot:
“Suspends Air Pollution Control Laws Requiring Major Polluters to Report and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions That Cause Global Warming Until Unemployment Drops Below Specified Level for Full Year.”
In this case, the Prop 23 campaign has opted to fight, with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filing a lawsuit seeking to undo the AG’s intent. According to the San Jose Mercury News:
“Specifically, the lawsuit contends that the measure would not suspend air pollution control “laws” because other greenhouse gas laws and smog laws would remain unaffected if it passes.
The lawsuit also alleges that the ballot summary is inaccurate when it says that AB 32 affects “major polluters,” because in the view of the taxpayers group, it will affect thousands of businesses.
The lawsuit, which names Brown, Secretary of State Debra Bowen and state printer Kevin Hannah, asks for new language. It suggests: “Suspends state law that requires greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020, until California’s unemployment drops to 5.5 percent or less for four consecutive calendar quarters.”“
Amidst the legal wrangling, there’s a lesson in this for California Republicans. While the top-of-the-ticket races for governor and U.S. Senate dominate voters’ attention, down-the-ticket races can be just as important.
An Attorney General with a different philosophy (and different political allies) perhaps comes up with a different Prop 23 ballot summary . . . just as a different State Controller doesn’t make life miserable for Gov. Schwarzenegger when it comes to budget impasses and state workers.
Reports from Washington and the campaign trail have congressional Democrats talking tough about a heath-insurance “public option”.
Harry Reid promised it, over the weekend, at the Netroots gathering in Las Vegas. Closer to home, a pair of Bay Area Democrats (Reps. Pete Stark and Lynn Woolsey) are talking up a public-option bill which, they claim, will save taxpayers some $68 billion and cut premiums 5-7%.
With all due respect, I think there’s another industry sitting out there that’s ripe for a government takeover.
One that affects the lives of millions of Americans of all persuasions.
An industry that’s divided us into a nation of have’s and have’s not.
I’m talking, of course, about . . . the runaway costs of weddings.
According to the New York Daily News, Chelsea Clinton’s trip down the aisle this weekend at a private estate about 90 miles north of Manhattan will cost the former First Couple anywhere from $3-5 million.
As the NYDN notes, the bottom end of that estimate would put Chelsea’s fete somewhere between the nuptials of Liza Minnelli and David Gest ($3.5 million) and those of Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes ($2 million).
So what to make of this? Are the Clintons simply living large, thanks to a very prosperous post-presidency?
Or, is there something more sinister afoot?
Are the Clintons, like many Americans struggling to get by in this great land of ours during these hard time, being fleeced for basic services (food, flowers, music etc.) by an industry that’s driven by profit and seemingly cares little for the burdens they place on working households?
If so, isn’t it time the government stepped in and made weddings a more affordable right for all Americans?
Clearly, we have a private-sector monster on our hands. According to We tv’s Wedding Report (this is Oprah’s network, and you know Oprah wouldn’t lie about something so important to women), the average cost of a wedding has increased 21.9% over the past year, from $19,581 to $23,867.45.
“Planner/Consultant A La Carte Services (up 84.2% at $1,171), Gift/s for the Bride (up 53.1% at $253), and Planner/Consultant For Getting Started (up 50.4% at $920) saw the biggest gain in spending. Other Jewelry (down 61.7% at $304), Reception Accessories (down 55.3% at $200), and Ceremony Accessories (down 49.7% at $207) saw the biggest decline in spending.
The biggest difference was the increase in demand for products and services. 53 products and services saw gains in demand, 4 saw no change, while 13 saw declines. Other Travel/Transportation (up 178.6%), Musician/s, Soloist, or Ensemble (up 66.7%), and Other Jewelry (up 65.2%) saw the biggest gain in demand. Facial (down 15.2%), Manicure & Pedicure (down 8.4%), and Teeth Whitening (down 8.1%) saw the biggest decline in demand.”
Here’s where I think the Obama Administration can get busy.
Step one: create a new office of federal Wedding Czar. Kenneth Feinberg’s already booked. So offer the job to a Democrat out of work come the first Tuesday in November. Trust me, there’ll be a bunch of them. Or, give it to someone from the White House’s long-suffering economic brain trust. Unlucky at recoveries, luckier at love, we hope.
Even better, the President can task this responsibility to Star Jones, late of “The View” and one of the nation’s all-time “Bridezillas”.
Step two: congressional hearings. Get those planners and consultants before Henry Waxman, to defend their profit margins. Surely, there’s a Tony Hayward who will play into the Administration’s hands as a prickly boss/p.r. dufus.
Step three: class warfare. If the wealthy think they can get away with multi-million $$ “Cadillac” wedding plans, they’re going to pay for it through the nose — and champagne flute.
And forget about sneaking north across the border for cheaper services. Apparently, weddings in Canada are just as steep as here in the U.S.
For a struggling president, a federal takeover of weddings could offer real political advantage. Consider the impact on angry male voters — not soccer dads, mind you, but fathers of the bride. As pollster Scott Rasmussen has noted, the angriest of America’s angry are males making $60,000-$100,000 a year. You don’t think they’re sweating out their children’s marriage costs?
And there’s the President testy relationship with the town of Las Vegas. It began long ago with Obama holding up junkets to Sin City as an example of corporate excess. Obama could easily turn that around by talking up Vegas as a wedding destination (maybe even toss in a one-time tax credit for couples that agree to take their vows on The Strip).
It might help save Harry Reid’s job. It might keep a blue state from going back into the red column in 2012.
One final note: all politics are local . . . and, sometimes personal. This President just happens to be the father of two young girls. He may not be going to Chelsea’s wedding, but I bet the price tag has caught his eye.
If Jerry Brown goes on to win California’s gubernatorial contest, remember this day (July 25) as the moment his sleepy campaign perhaps finally showed signs of life.
Early in the day, the Democratic candidate and erstwhile state Attorney General waded into the Bell pension scandal by announcing that his office had subpoened employment records — ostensibly, to get to the bottom of the question of how the Los Angeles suburb managed to get away with such exhoritant pensions for its top city employees.
For added dramatic effect, Jerry gave Bell officials only 48 hours to cough up the documents.
Then, cherry on top of the sundae, Jerry got time on the Fox News Channel (Neil Cavuto’s show) to express his anger and outrage over this, the biggest pension-related scandal to hit California in recent times. Real or feigned, it’s a good day for a Democratic candidate when they beat their Republican rival to the punch on “fair and balanced”.
So who or what put the burr in the Brown campaign’s saddle?
Maybe it had something to do with the calendar. Sunday, July 24, marked 100 days until the Nov. 2 general election. So, perhaps, Brown’s internal clock is telling him it’s time to get busy.
Or, maybe, it has more to do with history — specifically, Jerry’s past experience in seeking this particular office.
Let’s go back to 1978 and the last time Jerry Brown ran for governor. He was up for re-election, and his Republican challenger was Evelle Younger.
Younger, California’s Attorney General at the time, had just emerged as the victor in a crowded four-man primary that included LAPD Chief Ed Davis, State Sen. Ken Maddy and a little-known mayor from San Diego and fourth-place finisher named Pete Wilson (years later, Wilson would joke that his first run for statewide office was “a haven for people who hated large crowds”).
On paper, Younger was in a prime position to pounce in the general election. Proposition 13 has just passed overwhelmingly on the June ballot (65% approval) and, in Howard Jarvis and a group of angry anti-tax activists, the Golden State was three decades ahead of the rest of the nation as far as “tea partying” goes. Moreover, Brown had called the measure a “rip-off”.
If that campaign were run in 2010, let’s assume the Republican nominee would be running on the topic of taxes and government. Running night and day, without fail.
But, in 1978, campaigns were a different creature.
Rather than riding the momentum of his primary win and fashioning himself as Howard Jarvis’ newest bff, Younger instead took a vacation in Hawaii. After he returned to the mainland, he checked into a hospital to have a kidney stone surgically removed, followed by recovery time at home.
All told his campaign went dark for over a month.
But not the Brown re-elect effort.
First, Jerry pulled off a nifty flip-flop on Prop 13, declaring himself a “born-again tax-cutter”. As Californologist Joe Matthews explains, Brown justified the change of heart by contending that he had to support Prop 13 because, as governor it was his duty to uphold the state constitution.
And, for good measure, Brown’s campaign ran a radio spot (today it would be YouTube) reminding California voters (to the backdrop of ukelele-strumming) that, while Younger was in Hawaii, their governor was on the job in Sacramento. Ouch.
The bottom line: Younger not gave away the momentum in the race, but he also ceeded the high ground on Prop 13.
Now let’s get back to 201o . . .
In Meg Whitman, Brown has an opponent who isn’t Younger. But she is restless: her campaign has continued at a dizzying pace since the June primary, running an aggressive media campaign that’s simulatenously pro-Meg, anti-Jerry and tailored to both mainstream and specialty tv.
And Brown? Like that other attorney general back in 1978, his far less visible campaign is running the risk of losing both the policy and moral high ground in this election. And where is that high ground? In 1978, it was property taxes. Today it just might be the public’s growing frustration with public pension benefits.
So credit Brown with not just surfing the pension rage, but (for now, at least) also positioning himself with the pound-of-flesh crowd. Let’s see if this can last — in particular, if the Whitman campaign tries to use Brown’s sudden populist fervor (and his seeming shift to the right on pensions) to drive wedge between the caniddate and his public-employee underwriters.
Over at NationalJournal.com, political handicapper Charlie Cook weighs the odds of the GOP taking over the Senate come November. Cook’s assessment:
“A year and a half ago, it seemed impossible that Republicans would take back the Senate after losing control in 2006. Now it is certainly possible that the Senate will switch, but still fairly unlikely.”
1. Win the open seat in North Dakota. Byron Dorgan’s retiring; the current Republican governor is running. Easy enuf.
2. Win the open seat in Indiana. Evan Bayh’s retiring; former GOP Sen. Dan Coats has come out of retirement. Ditto.
3. Win Joe Biden’s old seat in Delaware. Not a problem — Republican Mike Castle’s the favorite.
ok, that’s three down (the three easiest pick-ups, most experts agree) . . . seven to go.
So here we go . . .
4. Win Barack Obama’s old seat in Illinois. That’s tricky; the race appears to be a dead heat.
5. Win the open seat in Pennsylvania (“open” in the sense that Arlen Specter is retiring — the voters’ idea, not his). Again, another dead heat.
6. Unseat Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. Surveys show her losing by a 2-1 margin, thanks to an electorate that disagrees with the Reid-Pelosi Congress on most everything from health care to offshore drilling.
7. Unseat Michael Bennet in Colorado. This is a complicated state (Tea Partiers, Democratic infighting, blue-to-red pivoting) that’s worth checking into following its Aug. 10 primary.
8. Unseat Harry Reid in Nevada. Like Mark Twain, reports of the Majority Leader’s political death may have been exaggerated.
9. Unseat Patty Murray in Washington State. Out of sight and out of mind, it’s a “sleeper” race in that the incumbent Democrat trails both the GOP and Tea Party favorites. And, remember, few people predicted Tom Foley’s surprise and historic ouster in 1994.
That leaves us with the choice of a 10th seat. And that means unseating Russ Feingold in Wisconsin (a race not getting much attention as the state doesn’t hold its primary until September).
Or, wait for it . . .
10. Unseat Barbara Boxer right here in California.
As Cook notes, even with this kind of sweep the GOP could still fall short of majority status. That’s because the Republicans have at least five “open” seats that the Democrats would love to remove from the GOP column: Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio.
But, in the meantime, the Senate math is good news for California Republicans — at least, in the sense that the national party can’t treat the Golden State as the black sheep of the family. Do the math and you’ll see that California suddenly is relevant, if not downright crucial to the thought of a Republican Senate takeover.
Not that the East Coast doesn’t think we’re nuts, as shown by this George Will column which suggests that, if Barbara Boxer can’t be defeated in this kind of anti-incumbent climate, then the Golden State is perhaps forever blue.
The big buzz today (ok, not a big surprise, but a pretty big thud nonetheless) is the big thumbs-down that is the latest Field Poll — a pox on all their political houses, if you will.
Gov. Schwarzenegger’s approval rating? A personal-worst 22% (and a 70% disapproval rating).
The State Legislature’s approval rating? 16% — sadly, that’s up 3 points (the last time the Legislature cracked the 20% barrier was two summers ago).
The public’s faith in California? 79% say the state’s on the “wrong track” (about the same as in 2003 and 1994, both of which were good years for conservatives in California).
Two of these numbers are easy to understand. The state’s stuck with double-digit unemployment and an economic rebound will occur slower than in other states. That, in part, explains the wrong-track number.
Meanwhile, the state budget process once again has gone into overtime and lawmakers seemed more interested in trivial matters, like securing Michael Jackson’s Neverland ranch, than more vexing woes like schools and roads.
But Arnold’s tanking numbers? That’s a little more complicated.
I did a little digging into Schwarzenegger’s Field history. It turns out that this governor, despite his celebrity status and unique path to office, is little difference from his gray (in name and style) predecessor.
Let’s start with Arnold’s numbers, beginning with the 2003 recall race. In early August and September 2003, when the thought of a Governor Schwarzenegger is a shaky concept, his numbers show the uncertainty: a 43-40 approve/disapprove in August; a 46-48 split in late September. But right before the recall when it’s becoming clear that Schwarzenegger will win, his numbers surf the wave: 52-41 favorable/unfavorable a week before the vote.
In his honeymoon phase, Schwarzenegger get the benefit of the doubt: 56% approve, only 26% disapprove (btw, the Legislature at this time is the opposite: 26% approve; 56% disapprove). That number tops out at 65% by May 2004. But give voters a chance to bail on Arnold and they do just that. Come September 2005, Schwarzenegger was leading a special election that the electorate didn’t want. His ratings reflect that: 36% approve; 52% disapprove.
Schwarzenegger’s numbers eventually recover — by March 2007, on the heels of a landslide re-election his approval rating is back up to 60%. But the governor’s surfing a bigger wave: the same Field Poll shows that, for the first time during Arnold’s time in office, a majority of Californians believe the state’s on the right track. flash forward to July 2010: only 13% of Californians think the state’s going in the right direction; only 22% approve of their governor.
Check out this chart, from the Sacramento Bee, comparing approval ratings of recent California governors. Davis’ high-water mark is 62% approval in February 2000 — the same year Californians’ “right track” sentiments averaged 58%. In other words, he too surfed the wave. Davis, like Schwarzenegger, bottomed out at 22% in August 2003. The “right track” then: only 16%.
How Schwarzenegger ended up with the same poll numbers as Davis should spark a lot of interesting talk not only about how he ran his administration, but how he handled his celebrity status.
Was it inevitable that, as a second-term governor in a slow economy, Arnold one day would be held in the same contempt as a less-flashy career politician like Davis?
Does this support the idea that a celebrity should only enter politics if they plan to take the James K. Polk approach: one term and out?
For a California governor it’s a cautionary tale: surf the wave and get out of the water . . . before the undertow gets you.
What would a week in California be without an Arnold Schwarzenegger legacy story? This time it’s the New York Times’ turn to weigh in on the gains and setbacks of the big man’s nearly seven years in office.
The Gray Lady’s take: Arnold is, in essence, the Jay Gatsby of California politics. He’s a self-made man, his administration has been one fabulous party, but deep-down he’s lonely . . . thanks to an independent streak that’s alienated Republicans, Democrats and a lot of special interests in between.
Because NYT stories typically have the look and feel of outsiders looking in (not to mention that they rarely resist mentioning the Governator’s fabulous 20-inch biceps), I think an important point was overlooked: Arnold is not so much isolated (this is not a man who will live in political exile) as he is a governor who’s attempting to go full circle, back to his desire to be remembered as a landmark political reformer and the true successor to the legendary Hiram Johnson, California’s governor from 1911-17.
Let’s go back in time to September 18, 2003, and the Sacramento Railroad Museum (perfect imagery, as Johnson’s legacy was taking on and defeating California’s powermongering railroad barons).
In a speech set up to brand Arnold as the second coming of the great progressive reformer, then-recall candidate Schwarzenegger unveiled a host of ideas meant to clean up the ethical and moral mess in state government: handing over political redistricting to appellate court justices; banning fundraising while the state budget’s still in play; a constitutional amendment in support of open-meeting laws; banning the “gut and amend” practice that puts bills to a final legislative vote without so much as committee or public review.
But that didn’t work — the newly elected governor didn’t have much of an appetite for the heavy lifting of dragging state government into the 21st Century. So Schwarzenegger traded in “the next Hiram Johnson” for a new role: “the next Pat Brown” — meaning, he wanted to be remembered California’s next great builder.
The problem, as Arnold soon discovered: the state’s out of money, it’s deeply in debt, and voters are in a foul mood. Thus selling the concept of unleashing the government to build hydrogen highways and revamp schools, hospitals and waterways just isn’t feasible (witness the decision to bail for now on Prop 18, the multi-billion-dollar water-bond initiative that seemed destined for a belly-flop at the polls this fall).
Why not . . . go back to Hiram Johnson?
Which is what Arnold has done — a gubernatorial 360.
Last month, after the voters’ passage of Proposition 14, Schwarzenegger was back in full-fledged Hiram mode. In a radio/video address, he declared that the open primary and redistricting reform (Proposition 11, approved in November 2008) have spawned the most dramatic political reform in California in 100 years — yes, right about Hiram Johnson’s time.
The New York Times piece continued theme: Arnold as a champion of political reform, and a true agent of change.
This is one of those times when there’s some truth to the spin: redistricting reform and open primaries potentially could dramatically alter California’s political landscape. And Schwarzenegger deserves credit if indeed the change results in a better form of elections and representative government.
Makes you wonder what else Arnold might’ve accomplished, had he stayed on track after that promising speech at the Railroad Museum.
Since California’s political press corps insists on lumping together Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina (here’s the latest, from the Los Angeles Times, speculating on the two ladies’ temperaments), let’s look at the flip side of the coin: Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer.
Tweedledee and Tweedledumthey’re not. More like, TweedleDems in the looking-glass of California politics.
Jerry, born in April 1938, is 19 months Barbara’s elder. She turns 70 the week following Election Day (the Field Poll suggesting this is a bad year to be a septuagenarian candidate). Boxer first ran for public office in 1972 (she lost her bid for Marin County Supervisor). That was two years after Jerry’s first run (and win) for statewide office (CA Secretary of State).
Sure, they have their differences. Boxer’s a classic liberal. And Brown? He’s classically . . . quizzical.
But the two nominees are one-two on the Democratic side of the California ballot.
And both have something serious thinking to do in the near future.
For Brown, it’s all about tactics.
Does he start spending money now to fight back against Whitman’s ceaseless media blitz, or does he continue to sit on his war chest while his Republican opponent dominates the airwaves? Let’s suppose Jerry had $20 million to commit to advertising. If he started now and tried to match Whitman, he could be broke by Labor Day. And surely he remembers his sister, Kathleen, running out of dough and going dark in the last days of the 1994 governor’s race.
Then again, if Brown maintains his present silence, he risks allowing Whitman to dictate the terms of the election — the issues, the dialogue, the story lines. Nor does he inspire much confidence within the Democratic base which already is concerned about Brown’s somewhat lackadaisical approach to taking on Whitman.
To use a sports metaphor, it’s the equivalent in squash (I know, nice Republican example) of “controlling the t” — standing in the middle of the court, stroking the ball left and right, running your opponent ragged (think Gordon Gekko giving poor Bud Fox a near-on-the-court heart attack in “Wall Street”).
Come to think of it, Gordon Gekko understood the task at hand: “This is your wakeup call, pal. Go to work.”
As for Boxer, the challenge isn’t tactics. It’s thematics.
Last week, the junior senator toured the Golden State, using carefully orchestrated photo-ops to show how federal stimulus $$$ are creating jobs in California.
And, wherever and whenever possible, she called Fiorina a failed CEO who drove Hewlett-Packard into the ground.
The problem is: Californians don’t much like Boxer right now.
Her image disapproval rating, now 52%, has increased by one-third in the last four months. And her job-disapproval climbed. So much for a reservoir of good will.
And Boxer’s answer? Last week, it was a jobs tour that looked a little passe. And an assault on her opponent that only reinforces the negative that is her negative political persona.
So Boxer’s choice is to take the low road and continue the Carly-bashing — ramp it up, even — or offer something more positive, more futuristic and less divisive. If so, it likely has to be something deeper than hanging out with hard-hats at shovel-ready job sites.
Once again, Gordon Gekko: “I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them.”