Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Archive for August 2010

Tuesday’s Dose of Sunshine

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While today’s vote in Arizona may be of interest to California, what with Sen. John McCain forced to spend more than $21 million to keep disgruntled conservatives and Tea Partiers at bay, it’s the primary in Florida that’s just as compelling — and maybe more important in the big-picture scheme of things.

First, it’s a great plot line — something straight out of a Carl Hiaasen novel on life in the bizarro Sunshine State.

You have the 39-year-old Republican conservative darling, not even elected and already (sadly, imo) being talked up as 2012 presidential timber — like Barack Obama, at this point in his career, an over-hyped commodity. He’ll be challenged this fall by the sitting governor who’s ditched the GOP and is now running as an independent. As for the two Democrats, there’s the gazillionaire who asked Mike Tyson to serve as best man at his wedding. He’s running against a four-term congressman endorsed by Bill Clinton but expected to be quietly undermined by his state party in hopes that Democratic loyalists will shift over to the newly independent governor, who in turn would return the favor by caucusing with Democrats as a freshman senator.

Got all of that?

Here’s another reason why Florida matters more to California than Arizona: 2010 Senate math.

McCain’s expected victory today translates to an easy victory in November; the seat stays in GOP hands. But the Senate seat in Florida, open now thanks to the retirement of Republican Sen. George LeMieux, offers Democrats the rare chance in this election cycle to turn a Republican seat Democratic. Should Rubio stumble or should Crist catch on fire, Democratic poobahs might ask their friendly “independent” groups to pour money into the Sunshine State. And that could mean fewer dollars funneled to the Golden State, to help incumbent Sen. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Conversely, should Rubio’s chances improve down the home stretch, Democrats might look to spend elsewhere, including California.

As for the Senate math in this election year, it’s all about counting to 10 — how Republicans get from their current 41 seats to 51 and outright majority control.

The calculation goes something like this:

1) Retain 6 seats vacated by retiring Republicans senators in Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio;

2) Win at least 5 of the 6 seats vacated by Democratic senators in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia (the latter being the toughest to pick up)

3) Pick up Arlen Specter’s seat in Pennsylvania, now that he’s been unceremoniously dumped by Keystone voters. Hold serve in the 5 GOP open seats, pick up 5 Democratic open seats, plus Pennsylvania, and the GOP is now at plus-six.

4) Target the 6 most vulnerable of the 12 Democratic incumbents seeking another term — that be California, Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada, Washington State and Wisconsin. Add these 6 to the earlier 6: net again of 12 seats, Republicans at 53.

It doesn’t take a calculator to figure that Republicans could easily get to 51 — and beyond — under these circumstances.

And it’s also clear that the GOP could take over the Senate without taking out Boxer.

California Republicans consider yourselves warned: there’s a history of the Golden State missing out on GOP Senate landslides:

— 1994. Republicans pick up 8 seats, taking over the Senate with a 52-seat majority. But in California, incumbent Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein outlasts Michael Huffington.

— 1980. Republicans pick up 12 seats, again taking over the Senate (this time, with a 53-seat majority). But in California, incumbent Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston gets 56.5% of the vote against Prop 13 co-author Paul Gann.


Written by Bill Whalen

August 24, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Padre Jerry?

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Forget about waiting until Election Night to discover the identity of California’s next governor.  

If history is any indication, the race will be decided no later than six nights earlier: Wednesday, Oct. 27. That’s the tentative date for Game One of the 2010 World Series.  

Why the political relevance of baseball’s “fall classic”?  

Simple. Go back over the past 40 years and California gubernatorial races and look those years in which the Democratic candidate prevailed.  

What you’ll find is: when a Democrat was on his way to victory, a California team was playing in the Series.  

Here’s the rundown:  

1962: Pat Brown (Jerry’s pop) wins a second term, defeating Richard Nixon; the San Francisco Giants lose in seven games to the New York Yankees (neither California team qualified for the 1958 World Series, when Brown earned his first term — and, coincidentally, major-league baseball first arrived on the West Coast);  

1974: Jerry Brown picks up where his old man left off, winning his first term as governor; the Oakland Athletics knock off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ in baseball first all-California Series;  

1978: Jerry wins a second term; the Dodgers again come up short in the Series, this time to the Yankees;  

1998: Gray Davis, Jerry’s ex-chief of staff, wins his first term as governor; the San Diego Padres are swept by the Yankees;  

2002: Davis is re-elected; the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (or whatever they called themselves back then) defeat the Giants in another all-California Series.  

2010: ???  

Of course, the system isn’t fool-proof.  

The Oakland A’s also appeared in the 1990 World Series, the same year that Democrat Dianne Feinstein narrowly lost to Republican Pete Wilson. And the Dodgers were swept in four straight by the Baltimore Orioles in the 1966 World Series — the same year Pat Brown was swept out of office by Ronald Reagan.  

So where does all of this leave Jerry Brown?  

New Brown logo?


First, he’d better start rooting like mad for the Padres or the Giants, the only two of California’s five MLB franchises with a realistic chance of advancing to the playoffs.  

Then, he has to cross his fingers and hope that one of those two has what it takes to make it to the Series, but then loses — the common denominator in those aforementioned Brown victories being that the California-based team, representing the National League, fell to its American League rival.  

So, for the moment, let’s see if  Jerry starts sporting a Padres cap (San Diego, with the best record in the National League, having a better chance than San Francisco of getting deep into the playoffs).  

Or, better yet, a padre’s frock and sandals, from his days at the Jesuit seminary.

Written by Bill Whalen

August 19, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

No House Party in California

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Here’s a sure-fire way for a Democratic to make himself persona non grata, even in the bluest of blue nation-states: fly into Los Angeles for a weekday fundraiser and seriously screw up the evening commute.

This morning’s Los Angeles Times is chock full of tales of woes of Angelenos who found their lives inconvenienced by yesterday’s presidential money heist.

Here’s my favorite passage:

“One man, who did not want to give his name, said it had taken his wife four hours to drive home from Brentwood. Another man trying to walk west on 6th Street to his office shouted at the officers blocking his way and told them he wished he had voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Obama’s opponent in the 2008 presidential race.”

A Facebook friend of mine wasn’t shy about his feelings:

“Dear President Obama, the Secret Service, and the LAPD, F–k you. You cannot lock people out of their homes for 3 hours, past children’s bedtimes.”

If I’m the Obama White House, maybe I can afford to make this kind of blunder in Los Angeles. It’s not as if California’s gonna be in play in 20102. But I wouldn’t do the same in Miami, or Cleveland, or any other large city in a potential swing state.

So Angelenos were furious about their roads being closed. They would have been further annoyed had they known that the purpose of the Obama visit — a $2,500-a-head fundraiser at the home of ER and West Wing executive producer John Wells — was for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which funds House candidates. 

Why the rub? Because the Golden State’s 53 districts have little to do with the Democrats keeping control of the lower chamber of Congress come next January.

Let’s do a little election-year math. The current division of the House is 253 Democrats, 178 Republicans. The GOP needs a net gain of 40 seats to get to the magical 218 and majority control (a pickup of 15-18 is the norm; political stargazer Larry Sabato thinks it will be somewhere in the neighborhood of the 30’s).

As California’s 53 seats account for nearly one-eighth of the entire House, logic would dictate that California’s contribution would be 5 seats if indeed there’s a Republican tide a-risin’.

The problem is, analysts tell us, there aren’t 5 vulnerable Democratic seats in the Golden State to be had in this cycle.

Political handicapper Charlie Cook subdivides “competitive” House races into three categories: “likely”, “lean” and “toss-up”.  Per his numbers of last week, Cook has 64 Democratic seats as “lean” or “toss-up”. Only one is in California: the 11th CD, a Bay Area seat held by two-termer Jerry McNerney.

So Obama’s visit to L.A. wasn’t about keeping California seats in the Democratic column.

Instead, it was business as usual in the Golden State: America’s political ATM.

One final irony about the California in the 2010 House cycle. Maybe the Republicans do indeed knock off McNerney. That pick-up could be offset by a GOP loss in the 3rd Congressional District, where third-term Republican Dan Lungren is seen as vulnerable.

Meaning, should both districts change hands and thus offsetting a partisan gain of any kind, California would have little to say about the future of the House.

Well, except for all that money — and Speaker Pelosi now the poster child for bad behavior in Republican ad buys in at least 40 Democratic-held seats nationwide.

Written by Bill Whalen

August 17, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The View Across the Pond

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Did Arnold make his Hollywood persona "expendable", to suit political purposes?


I rarely read what the U.K. newspapers have to say about the American presidency. More times than not, they run with rumors and half-truths fed to them by political operatives and mischievous ex-pats– the sort of innuendo that plays big on the Drudge Report, but rarely pans out. 

That said, I am interested in how the British view the last phase of the Schwarzenegger Administration — “Arnie”, as the British like to call him. And, in analyzing the governor and the state of his state, how they view the tarnished brand that is the Golden State. 

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Philip Sherwell sums it up thus: 

“The Californian dream has faded, if not died, on this governor’s watch. That matters for the rest of the world – if it was a country, the 37 million residents of America’s most populous state would be in the G8 grouping of the eight richest economies. And it also matters deeply to the American psyche. 

For the Golden State has long embodied the American spirit of hope, aspiration and achievement. It is the ultimate can-do frontier, home to the dream factory of Hollywood and the innovation and technology nucleus of Silicon Valley. 

And Mr Schwarzenegger also epitomised that dream. He arrived as a near-penniless immigrant, made his name as the world’s top bodybuilder, amassed a fortune in businesses ranging from brick-laying to mail-order catalogues and then overcame that accent and the many sceptics to become the star of blockbusters such as Conan the Barbarian and the Terminator franchise. 

But for an actor, his political timing has been lamentable as he has ended up running the show during America’s great economic and housing meltdown.” 

I’m guessing that most Brits sees Schwarzenegger as a celebrity first, politician second. In fact, the hook for this story is the Governator’s cameo in The Expendables

But do Californians view their governor the same? Do they consider him a movie star now in a star-turn as a governor . . . or a governor who once upon a time starred in movies? If they still see Arnold as a celebrity/political hybrid, what’s the ratio — 50/50, or something less balanced? 

When we analyze Schwarzenegger’s impact and legacy as California’s 38th governor, as we’re certain to do (perhaps ad nauseum) in the interlude between Sacramento administrations, part of the discussion has to be Arnold’s celebrity status — specifically, did he lose appeal due to the effect that, as he became more bipartisan and “post-partisan”, he blended into the Capitol woodwork? 

Or, was such loss of star power inevitable given that, once elected and re-elected, Schwarzenegger guaranteed that his film career and Hollywood persona would become a distant image in the rear-view mirror?

Written by Bill Whalen

August 16, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Is Brown’s Pension an Issue?

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Perhaps California’s political press corps is a superstitious lot, and it decided to take a collective personal day last Friday the 13th.

That’s too bad, because the Brian Joseph, the Sacramento correspondent for the Orange County Register, had a most interesting analysis of California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s pension.

Per this report,  it seems that the Democratic gubernatorial nominee may be receiving a more generous pension than he deserves. And it’s clear that California’s pension laws are terribly arcane — so arcane, in fact, that they seem murky even after a month of one reporter’s analysis. Anyway, check out Joseph’s analysis and see if you can sense of it all.

The question here: why aren’t political reporters jumping on this story?

I think it’s a fair question given that:

1) Pensions are very much in the public spotlight, given both the scandal in the town of Bell and Gov. Schwarzenegger’s insistence that meaningful pension reform occur on his watch;

2) If Brown, who’s campaigning on experience and gained wisdom of government during his four decades of public service, can’t explain his own pension, what does that say about: (a) complicated pension rules and (b) his vaunted knowledge base.

3) Personal finance (Jerry trying to come across as a populist pauper while Democratic attacks dogs portray his foe as “Queen Meg”) is a big part of this election’s plot line.

This must be somewhat frustrating for the Whitman campaign, especially since the media coverage this past weekend wasn’t Jerry’s pension, but instead the $13 million check that the Republican gubernatorial candidate just wrote to the effort, pushing her self-funding total to $104 million, soon to surpass the $109 million that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg shelled out during his 2009 re-elect. 

One other thought: when Arnold leaves office, he’ll have accumulated seven-plus years of public service (November 2003 to January 2011). What dollar amount is he entitled to? And it based of a California governor’s current annual salary of $173,987, or the fact that Schwarzenegger (to his considerable credit) has done the job for free since wining the recall election.

Written by Bill Whalen

August 16, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Still Ahead of the Bell Curve

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It’s August and something of the silly season in California politics.

The state budget’s five weeks overdue, going on six. Candidates are working the campaign trail. The public is on vacation — physically . . . and politically, I suspect.

Still, there’s action in the governor’s race. This week, it’s a data dump — an 18-report economic analysis — dumping on Meg Whitman’s recovery plan, courtesy of the by the advocacy arm of the Center for American Progress.

A word about this.

First, this is what the Center for American Progress does. Founded after the Clinton President by former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta, the think tank runs left of center, and likes to run down Republican candidacies. Here’s a release from back in September 2008 — “How John McCain’s Economic Plan Fails Blacks and Hispanics”. Subtle, huh?

Second, this is what political campaigns do in this day and age. You trot out a group of “experts” and try to set off a fire alarm. Thus a Democratic gubernatorial campaign in California turns to left-leaning economists to take a shot at the Republican campaign’s economic legitimacy, just as a GOP presidential campaign would trot out — oh, say, a group of retired generals — who would have you believe we’d all be speaking Russian in four years if we elect the soft-on-defense Democrat.

Drills like this are par for the course in modern politics. They’re far too familiar, and thus tiresome. And they reek of partisan intent. I’m guessing the public largely doesn’t care — just as they won’t care a month from now when the Brown or Whitman campaign trots out a group of educators/environmentalists/doctors/cops/firefighters to have you believe the enemy camp is going to foul our waters, dumb down our kids, spread disease, squander our treasure and basically allow California society go to hell in a handbasket.

So if I’m the Whitman campaign, I’m not sweating what those Democratic-friendly economists are saying.

But I would be concerned about what Jerry is doing re. pensions. Specifically, it’s expanding the AG’s office’s investigation into the growing Bell scandal by subpoenaing past and present city officials for income tax returns and other paperwork tied to income and investments.

In addition, Brown said the AG’s office is setting up a voter fraud hotline for folks who think they were conned in the election that enabled Bell’s politicians to falsely inflate their salaries.

Brown’s a smart politician and, as a veteran pol who’s lived through a lot of ebbs and flows, he may best appreciate that California’s electorate is (a) angry and (b) not angry for any one specific reason, but a lot of contributing factors — a hodgepodge of bad policies, bad politics or politics who seem to exist only to underwhelm and underachieve.

In the 2003 recall election, the last time voters were in this foul of a snit, the anger was focused: the vehicle license fee increase, drivers’ licenses for illegal aliens, rolling blackout, budget deficits. Just as it was in 2004: crime and illegal immigration.

What the Bell scandal may provide is the tip at the end of the spear . . . a focus for voters’ anger, and a convenient metaphor for all that’s wrong in the Golden State. That’s why it’s smart for Brown to be on top of the scandal, and ahead of the political pack. It’s also why it might make sense for Whitman to add some variety to her job-centric public event schedule and ponder a back roads tour of California — to the dozens of towns statewide beset by soaring budget deficits, rising pension costs and appalling political ineptitude.

Written by Bill Whalen

August 10, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized