CA Statewide Office – Nov 2010

Governor
US Senator
Lt. Governor
Secretary of State
Controller
Treasurer
Attorney General
Insurance Commissioner
Superintendent of Public Instruction

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Governor: Jerry Brown

Yes the former Catholic seminarian is an iconoclastic character who definitely has forged a very unique path in politics, but Jerry Brown is our recommended choice for Governor.

Its interesting how people seem to be divided into two camps on Brown: those that remember him from the 70s as Governor and those that don’t. Many in the first category seem to have this subliminal negative reaction to Brown (mention of his name tends to illicit a deep sigh and rolling of the eyes like being reminded of your weird old Uncle Frank has arrived at the family get together).  And yes watching him live he can be channeling his inner-Biden with the soundbites he throws out there. But after reviewing his past job performance, he’s done some respectable things in his 40+ years of public service.

Governor Frugalbeam (1975-1983)

Succeeding Governor Ronald Reagan at the young age of 36, Brown’s enjoyed a fascinating tenure as the bachelor Governor who rented an apartment paid for with his own money instead of living in the Governor’s mansion and eschewed the limo thing to be driven to work in his 1974 powder blue Pontiac Satellite .  Who can forget the images of him and then girlfriend Linda Ronstadt on safari?

Linda and Jerry on Safari – checkout the link for full impact

Despite the perception that “Moonbeam” was a big liberal, he was perceived as being fiscally conservative. He believed in the balance budget amendment and racked up a $5 billion budget surplus. Reagan’s former program director joked that his boss thought “Jerry has gone to far to the right.” As often was the case, Brown was ahead of his time with some of his thinking and policy.  Taxpayers frustrated that Brown was sitting on a budget surplus without cutting taxes, organized Proposition 13 which reduced property taxes. Once passed by an overwhelming 65%, Brown needed to enforce the will of the people.  Brown went about slashing spending to comply with the initiative’s requirements.  His Prop 13 opposition was prophetic in that the decreased taxes to cities and counties created huge deficits, which meant the state had to bail out the local governments and thus liquidate much of the surplus. This also set-up a vicious budget cycle of cities and counties perpetually lacking budget to cover infrastructure so state funds have to bridge the gap – that continues today. Ironically, Proposition 13 author Howard Jarvis was so smitten with Brown’s budget frugality he actually helped with his 1978 re-election campaign.

Continued Public Service – Mayor, Presidential Candidate, and AG oh my

Brown continued his unique career serving running for President a couple times, as Mayor of Oakland, and currently as California’s Attorney General. He and Arnold made headlines in their refusal to enforce Proposition 8 because it’s unconstitutional, which was recently upheld but still making its way through the courts. Despite his personal opposition to the death penalty, Brown has defended multiple death penalty cases. He’s also filed suit against Countrywide Lending for their predatory loan practices and other consumer and environmental cases.

eMeg

If you have been in a coma for the last six months and have not been exposed to any TV, radio, or print media; Meg Whitman is running for governor.  (We’ll be happy when this election is over if nor no other reason than to take a much needed break from Meg-mania.) She has spent an estimated $140 million of her own money.  How does one spend that much money on statewide race? Checkout the breakdown here. Interesting to note that Megster has spent $850,000 on private air jet travel while Jerry has spent $13,000 on air travel mostly Southwest – ding!

To say we are unimpressed with Meg Whitman is an understatement.  Seeking to again leverage the questionable adage that bit-business retirees will necessarily make good political leaders, Whitman offers nothing new from the traditional conservative line. Whitman has received sizable support from Goldman-Sax; she also is one of a number of individuals who made millions from the company’s policy of allowing certain individuals to benefit from stock deals before those deals were provided to the public (called “IPO Spinning”).  Whitman has stated that if elected she will immediately repeal the bi-partisan environmental bill AB-32 (which is also the subject of an oil-industry backed proposition on this year’s ballot).  Whitman backed anti-gay Proposition 8 legislation and criticized Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown for refusing to support the law.  Her most recent recycled idea is removing the state capital gains tax – a move that will provide tax “relief” to the relatively small class of market investors who buy and sell stock, no relief to the vast majority of Americans who don’t have the money to pay their rent much less invest in anything, and is expected to result in a $5.3 billion dollar increase in the state’s deficit.

eMeg only registered to vote at age 46 and a very spotty voting record during the last 25 years.  Maybe it’s not the singular reason to not vote for her, but it is troubling that someone with her means and resources can’t make the time to mail in an absentee ballot.

Whitman has done little to demonstrate a true understanding of how California government works beyond bumper sticker slogans.  Even if you allow her some leeway for not being a policy wonk, during the campaign she’s so scripted by her cadre of consultants (spending over $11 million on them to date) that it’s difficult to understand what she genuinely thinks. She’s contradicted herself on key issues like offshore drilling (“BP spilled how much?”), public employee pension reform (exempting police and firefighters from the plan), immigration (what do you mean Nanny Niki wasn’t legal”) when polling suggests public sentiment has shifted. Sadly many of her positions seem to be campaign maneuvering rather than conviction or critical-thinking.  This perhaps is the worst of all worlds – bad positions that are not authentic.

If she loses maybe we can make her a “I spent $140 million of my money on the governor’s race and all I got was this stupid t-shirt”

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US Senate: Barbara Boxer

Senator Boxer is up for her fourth term and is being challenged by former HP CEO Carly Fiorina (Oh Tom Campbell why couldn’t you have run a better primary bid?)  Senator Boxer has not been without her faults and her style lacks a certain statesmen quality but Fiorina’s experience, policy positions, and temperament make her a terrible choice to represent the Golden State.

Okay Senator Boxer sure can make it tough to defend.  Here personality and approach can be abrasive and adversarial.  First some “positives” about Boxer. After toiling in committee obscurity for years because the Republicans controlled the Senate, Boxer has finally earned a Chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works committee.  This is an important position not just for California, but also for the environment, as she controls what hearings are held and bills are voted out of committee- basically the entire agenda. She is not the most prolific legislator, but you have to give her credit for standing firm on key progressive issues like abortion rights, the Iraq war, and health care.

oy – it’s Carly

Fiorina – where to begin? In the last 10 years, she’s only voted in 1 in 4 of the federal, state, and local elections she was eligible – why oh why is it so difficult for these folks to cast an absentee ballot?

We believe that non-lawyers, non-politicians should be elected to political office because they bring a fresh perspective to government and policy making.  Unfortunately one of Fiorina’s biggest self-proclaimed assets – her real world experience running a Fortune 500 company – works against her rather than for her.  Even if you grant her a mulligan on being fired by the HP Board (PolitoMaven has her only concerns about the wisdom of their ways but look what Mark Hurd did before hanging out with marketing contractors), her track record at HP is far from a crowning achievement.  Among her “accomplishments”

  • HP lost half of its value during her tenure
  • 28,000 employees laid off while paying herself excessive and non-performance related bonuses and perks
  • a costly (and by many analysts estimates) a faulty strategy to merge with Compaq
  • Took executive narcissism to a new level with her constant need for the limelight

Upon her being fired from HP, employees and analysts were almost giddy (oh, and their stock price went up 7% that day). At the Boise HP facility they passed out Hostess Ding Dongs to announce (wait for it) “the witch is dead.” (ouch).  Okay so being a CEO isn’t a popularity contest and making difficult decisions like layoffs and closing offices is sure to evoke strong emotions.  But true leadership is about motivating people to follow, not just in the good times but through difficult change.  Here she failed terribly at HP.

And as a junior Senator in a 100 person chamber, the ability to work well and play nice with others is essential. Quite frankly, many executive types realize this and decide to run for governor instead. Her “my way or the highway” approach did not work in the private sector and it certainly won’t fly in the public sector, especially if she fines herself in the minority party.

Second, her positions are significantly out of line with the majority of Californians.

  • Anti-choice and supports the repeal of Roe v. Wade even when mother’s life is in danger
  • Calls climate the change “the weather” and supports AB 32 to repeal the landmark global warming legislation approved by Schwarzenegger
  • Repeal recent Health Care reform
  • Supports expanded offshore oil drilling (even Meg Whitman doesn’t support that)
  • Calls Endangered Species Act “crazy”
  • Opposes gay marriage – supporter of Proposition 8
  • Supports Arizona’s recent immigration law allowing
  • She actively sought and received Sarah Pailin’s endorsement

Sarah & Carly

Ironically one of Fiorina’s recent campaign messages has been that Boxer is an out of touch ideologue, who doesn’t reflect California’s population.  But her policy positions and style indicate she is the ideologue out of touch.

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Lieutenant Governor – Gavin Newsom

A reasonable question often asked: what does the California Lt Governor actually do? The role is not the most powerful and tends to have a greater emphasis on ceremonial duties. In addition to serving as the President of the California Senate, the Lt Governor also serves on the following regulatory committees and agencies:

  • UC Board of Regents
  • CSU Board of Education
  • Ocean Protection Council
  • California Emergency Council
  • State Lands Commission
  • Chairs Commission for Economic Development

The person is also elected separately from the Governor which means the Governor can be elected from one party and the lieutenant from the other.  The position would probably benefit from being joined as a combined ticket with the Governor (like Pres and VP) but that’s a topic for another blogpost.

Able Abel

Republican Abel Maldonado is the incumbent, who was recently appointed by Arnold when John Garamendi vacated after being elected to the US House of Representatives in 2009.  Maldonado has a classic “work hard and you too can achieve the American Dream” bio.  The eldest son of Central Valley immigrant farm workers, Maldonado would pick strawberries to help support his family. After attending Cal Poly and earning his degree in Crop Science, he went on to help grow the family business to x & y.  He ran for local office and eventually elected to the California Assembly and State Senate.  Maldonado did some good things like school bus seat belt laws, workers comp reform, and improving school academic performance.

The Gavinator

Newsom, as just about everyone knows by now, is the two term Mayor of San Francisco. Only three weeks into his term, Mayor Newsom directed the city clerk to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, which was in direction violation of California state law. He then famously declared (on video), “This door’s wide open now. It’s going to happen, whether you like it or not.” This little sound bite was used in every conservative direct mail and TV ad, and most recently in the Proposition 8 campaign, which some credited with tipping the balance to initiative’s passage.

Although history will show that Newsome was on the right side of this issue, and we respect his principled stance, PolitoMuse believes his actions set the equal rights movement back.  We also believe that while he was right on the principle he was wrong to effectively direct his clerks to break the then-existing law.  Instead, he should have done what other did a year later – challenged the law in court. Once the media started broadcasting that gay marriage was coming to a town near you, a cultural backlash was born. Several states passed constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage (including California’s Proposition 8 in 2008) in addition to making it a national campaign issue for progressive candidates.

Where the candidates stand

But apart from Newsom’s arrogant style at the beginning of his career, we think he’s matured in recent years and a closer examination of his mayoral record actually suggests more moderate tendencies than his “flaming liberal” reputation.

Newsom is running on a platform of revitalizing the economy, fully funding education and clean energy generation.  He is pro-choice, pro environment (including AB 32), and (clearly) supports all forms of marriage and domestic partnership.

Maldonado by contrast is far more conservative particularly on social issues:

  • Opposed to gay marriage AND domestic partnerships
  • Anti-choice
  • Voted against AB32 (Arnold’s landmark greenhouse gas reduction bill)

Ironically he’s drawn criticism from the right wing of the Republican party because he became the 27th vote (along with Democrats) to pass the 2009 budget which included tax increases – despite taking a “not taxes” pledge.

Apart from his positions, Maldonado has numerous inconsistencies in positions on key issues. For example he voted against AB23 the greenhouse reduction bill but is opposed to Prop 23, the ballot initiative to suspend AB32. He also changed his position on Tranquillon Ridge offshore drilling bill after being appointed by the more environmentally conscious Governor Arnie.

We are troubled by Newsom’s trashing the Lieutenant Governor position, after dropping out of the Governor’s primary race, only to eventually run for Lieutenant Governor. Might he be using this position as a stepping stone? Perhaps – but in fairness that is probably true for any candidate for this office.  Moreover, whatever his true motivation, Newsom has taken strong positive positions on higher education  – the one area where the LT actually has considerable power.  We also like his balanced pro-business background – its true, despite coming from the People’s Republic of San Francisco, he is considered quite business-savvy and has helped San Francisco businesses operate reasonably in what can be a fairly anti-business city.

Given the Lt. Governor position does have considerable influence over key issues of higher education and the environment, we recommend a vote for Newsom. His strong communication skills and knowledge will make him an effective advocate for California.

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Secretary of State: Debra Bowen

The incumbent Debra Bowen is facing Republican challenger Damon Dunn.  Secretary State is tasked with overseeing the election process. Bowen, a former legislator, has done a good job especially in light of a 25% budget reduction. Other notable accomplishments for Bowen:
  • In 1995, Debra was the first California legislator to voluntarily put her campaign finance reports online
  • Made efforts to reduce the time it takes to register a business.
  • Pushing for online voter registration but very aware of the many privacy and security concerns
  • Bowen directs Safe at Home, California’s confidential address program that offers mail forwarding, voter registration, school records suppression and other services to many victims of abuse, stalking and sexual assault, as well as reproductive health care staff, volunteers and patients. She’s also pushed for new laws that prohibit publication of Safe at Home participants’ legal name changes in any public forum, including newspapers and online.
  • Increased online visibility. Now anyone can subscribe to RSS and Twitter feeds of information about agency news, voting systems, ballot measures and elections administration.
Damon Dunn has an impressive personal story of going from living in poverty to earning full scholarship to Stanford and playing in the NFL. Dunn seems like a good guy who is gives a lot back to the community. Unfortunately, he only registered to vote for the first time last year and given his lack of any public sector or election experience, doesn’t have right background for this important position.

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Controller: John Chiang

Well it’s sad state of affairs when the Controller’s job description is more about managing cash flow for the annual governor –legislature budget stalemate, but such is life in California. He’s done a good job of showing the depths of California’s financial situation (like when we are in the verge of financial insolvency) and when California had to issue warrants in lieu of payments, contractors and vendors had a high confidence level of being paid.

Chiang has managed the perennial crisis well and demonstrated leadership with other challenges. Now pension and benefits crisis is all the rage but Chiang took proactive steps when he saw the danger coming. Three years ago, Chiang conducted first actuarial analysis of state retiree benefits and rang the alarm bell for Arnold and the Legislature to set aside billions for health benefits annually.

By contrast Senator Strickland seems myopic for a largely financial role.  In addition to calling for cutting expenses (not something that Controller has any control over – that’s what the Legislature does) he also sponsored a state constitutional amendment to nullify federal health care (never mind that a state constitution cannot overturn already existing federal law). Strickland is President of the California Club for Growth, a Tea Party affiliated PAC and has signed their No New Tax pledge. He’s entitled to his political opinions, but in this non-partisan office he seems like an exceptionally poor fit.

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Treasurer: Bill Lockyer

Bill Lockyer (D) the incumbent is being challenged by State Senator Mimi Walters  (R). While Lockyer is liberal he’s brought some much sanity to the very dysfunctional California budget process. Lockyer has done an admirable job in his tenure as Treasurer including:

  • Drove California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) to adopt a policy requiring disclosure of the identities and fees of high-priced middlemen – placement agents – who arrange investment deals. Why is this such a big deal? As the largest pension fund in the country, responsible for paying out $5.9 billion in pension, healthcare and other services for over 1.6 million retirees and families.  With a fund worth over $200 billion, what CalPERS invests in gets investors’ attention. Being placed on their “Focused List” can literally drive the stock price up, and is not surprisingly. So having transparency in who is involved with investment matchmaking for CalPERS is not only a good idea, it’s long overdue.
  • Pushed for bipartisan efforts to support new investment in Green Initiatives like being the first US government body to purchase World Bank’s to finance Climate Change projects in the Developing World and expanding the Green Wave initiative

And despite his liberal leanings, Lockyer seemed like the only adult at the kids table during the recent budget crisis. With each day delay in passing a budget, Fitch dropped California’s bond rating to a BBB, one notch above the junk bond category.  Lockyer impressed upon his Democratic party members the need to get real and get something done:

It seems to me that the kind of budget we will require before the end of June is almost entirely comprised of cuts…My suggestion to you is don’t delay the pain. It’s going to be awful, but just get it done. It’s going to be worse if it doesn’t get done.

and later added,

Why don’t you start with the realization that probably none of you are going to be back here next year? {after the 2010 elections} You’re not going to get reelected. Just put the politics out of your brain…That’s a very liberating thought, and with it you can get a lot done.

By contrast State Senator Mimi Walters, who is a California Protection Caucus Chair for the American’s for Tax Reform a very conservative interest group has never voted for a state budget.  She’s entitled to her opinion on the role of government, but as an elected official it’s not enough to oppose everything, at some point you have to govern. She’s signed the Tea Party affiliated Americans for Tax Reform’s pledge promising that she would oppose any effort to raise taxes.  With the Californian budget mess, we do not think it’s reasonable approach to dismiss any options.  Plus can we really trust her with a $70 billion portfolio if she can’t even run spell check on her website?

Notice a typo?

or actually post her endorsements, assuming she has any?

Something missing?

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Attorney General – Kamala Harris

This was another tough recommendation with two good candidates.  Often the AG position is a stepping stone for someone with a law degree to get statewide visibility and move on to higher political office (yeah we’re looking at you Pat Brown, Earl Warren, Jerry Brown, George Deukmejian).  But here, both candidates are actually seasoned prosecutors who have tried numerous court cases.

San Francisco’s Kamala Harris is smart progressive who has made prosecuting environmental and consumer cases a focus of her office. In San Francisco she’s tackled recidivism, she’s brought a fresh perspective looking at root causes of career criminals.  She has also dramatically increased conviction rates in a City where convictions can be hard to obtain – reaching an amazing 14-year high in conviction efficiency.  She is universally considered careful in her charging decisions and places an emphasis on tackling the serious problem of recidivism in the criminal justice system – something the next AG will need to address since the State is facing a federal court order to reduce overcrowding in California’s prisons (which currently house more than twice the number of inmates they were designed to house).

Like most, we are troubled by Harris’ response to a recent SF evidence scandal.  While she cannot be blamed for the actual misconduct (which was done by drug lab staff who stole illegal drugs from the evidence) she has been criticized for not dealing with the problem openly and for being slow to disclose exculpatory evidence relating to the problems.  Like our current AG and several recent ones she is openly anti-death penalty herself but affirms that she will enforce that law when the legal requirements are met.

Her opponent, Steve Cooley, is well respected in many circles.  The son of an FBI agent, he has served over 37 years in the Los Angeles prosecutors’ office, beginning his career as a law clerk. As LA’s District Attorney for the last 10 years, he’s been responsible for overseeing 1,000 attorneys and handled more than 500,000 cases with a 95% conviction rate.  He has a history of eschewing rogue partisanship in favor of practicality. When the masses foaming at the mouth, passed Three Strikes law, Cooley actually took a more thoughtful targeted approach (and drew the ire of the more conservative wing of his party).  By prioritizing the cases “who have prior violent, serious convictions and who commit new violent and serious offenses” they have the largest number of offenders doing 25 to life in state prison. If the offense is not violent or serious, then they seek a more proportionate response under second strike guidelines.  This has become a model for other counties on how to effectively implement a bad law (thank you California initiative process). Unfortunately, now that he has reached the public stage, Cooley has backtracked from his original anti-three-strikes position and now no longer claims that the law needs to be reformed even though he co-authored just such a reform bill in 2006.

Perhaps Cooley’s most compelling accomplishment is his record on prosecuting corruption in the recent Bell, California scandal where city officials were pillaging the city’s funds – conspicuously absent, however, were any charges against Bell’s police chief.  http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-cooley-20101019,0,1801447.story?page=2 .  Just last month, his office brought charges against city officials of Vernon.  Cooley has, however, been soundly criticized for his treatment of the Rampart Police scandals that resulted in intervention by the Federal Authorities (because LA officials were viewed as unwilling to take action against the bad cops), $30 million in civil lawsuits by victimized citizens, and hundreds of dismissed criminal cases.  Even articles supporting Cooley admit that the Rampart scandal is problematic, concede that  he has been criticized for being “soft . . . on bad cops” and that his own deputies have accused him of discrimination and favoritism within his office.

Overall, we think Cooley is the middle-of-the road pragmatist he purports to be.  However, questions about his ability to “police the police” are troubling considering that the State’s AG is the first line of defense where a county prosecutor has a “conflict” or otherwise refuses to act against its own local police force.

We also prefer Harris’ position on Proposition 8 (which denies gays the right to marry).  She has backed the current administration’s refusal to defend the law against constitutional challenges (which so far have been successful) while Cooley has criticized this position and stated he would actively defend the law (even though to date it has been held unconstitutional).

We also prefer Harris’ stance on the environment (another key issue for the State AG who is often charged with enforcing the state’s environmental laws).  She created an environmental crimes unit in SF and has openly opposed proposition 23 (seeking to overturn AB 32).  See our write-up.  Cooley has refused to provide his position arguing it could taint his obligation to enforce the law if it passes.  Yet, Cooley has had no problem openly stating his position against the national health care laws and expressly “vowing” to sue the Obama administration to block its enforcement. We think he is on the wrong side of these important issues.

It’s nice to have two qualified candidates vie for this important position – a description that definitely fits Cooley. However, we think its Harris who narrowly gets the edge because of her atypical “DA” mentality.  We’ve never heard a district attorney with strong conviction rates speak so eloquently about intervention, prevention, and redemption – words that Harris has backed up with innovative programs aimed at reducing the co-dependant problems of crime and unacceptably high incarceration rates.  We like her stance on the environment, on social issues, and her track record for applying the law equally.

UPDATE:  See our recent post about breaking news affecting this analysis by clicking here.

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Insurance Commissioner: Dave Jones

Dave Jones (D) and Mike Villines (R) are facing off for this position vacated by Steve Poiziner when he decided to run (unsuccessfully) for Governor.  This seemingly archane position actually affects Californians on a daily basis.  Tasked with overseeing regulating over 1500 insurance companies and investigates insurance fraud and ensuring claims are paid.  And with federal health care coming As a state assemblyman, Jones has a good track record in drafting and voting for legislation that protects consumers – AB 119 which prevents gender discrimination in health care pricing (women are charged between 4%-39% higher premiums even when comparing plans without maternity coverage).

Villines has strong background in breaking with special interests most notably being awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for break the 2009 state budget stalemate, where he took a big heat from fellow hardline Republicans.   However he initially opposed federal health care reform (he now says he’ll support it) and voted against AB 119 which is problematic as California moves forward with trying to provide coverage to the current 6 million uninsured.

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Superintendent of Public Instruction – coming soon!

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