Wednesday, February 11, 2009

CA Governor's race

Since Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown are evidently in the race to be my state's governor, I figured I'd weigh in. Although I'm a left-liberal Democrat I'm not opposed to voting for moderate Republicans at the state level, as local issues and federal issues are different and, all things considered, there's only so much damage that a governor can do (Ronald Reagan notwithstanding). On a national level I can't imagine voting for a Republican unless the other option is a historically corrupt Democrat of Blagojevichian proportions, and even then I'd probably vote third party or just leave the race blank. But state and local races are a different story.

Having said this, Whitman doesn't inspire me with confidence. Business leaders do not exactly make good politicians most of the time, and Whitman's less than stellar job shilling for John McCain leads me to believe she's not going to be able to beat Steve Poizner. Poizner seems like the only Republican with a real shot in the state--California Republicans in general tend to be very conservative and California is, if anything, growing even more liberal. We're mavericky, though, and a moderate Republican that can work across party lines and make budgets balance, all the while pursuing environmental regulations and keeping out of peoples' private lives, is not an impossible sell to Californians. In fact, it has a pretty good track record of working in recent history, as Arnold Schwarzenegger himself used it back during his campaigns. Unfortunately, Arnie didn't really live up to the promise he seemed to have. Partly it's because he never really had a base in the Republican Party, which saw him as far too liberal and is populated with unserious goobers from sparsely populated inland districts who know they're never going to run anything and have settled on just pissing off the other 65 or so percent of the population. So Arnold was hamstrung from the moment Republicans won more than 1/3 of the legislature, as California has a pretty dumb requirement that 2/3 of the legislature has to sign off on the state's budget. These Republicans didn't care about Arnold and his bright future, they just wanted to flex what little power they had. Schwarzenegger's strong reelection victory--one of the few GOP bright spots during the 2006 elections--actually sealed his fate, as the GOP delegation decimated his healthcare and environmental proposals. Arnie had worked well with Democrats, but he couldn't deal with Republicans. He had nothing to offer them, and he had no bonds with them. So they screwed him.

This is one of the reasons why Arnold's approval ratings have plummeted, as every year the GOP holds the budget hostage and demands unpopular spending cuts (tax hikes being the equivalent of SOCIALISM) and Schwarzenegger can't do a thing. Another part of it is institutional, to be sure, as ballot propositions and the 2/3 rule make California all but ungovernable. But one wonders if a GOP candidate who actually managed to get the party's nomination in the first place wouldn't be stronger with the state party. Someone like Steve Poizner might well be able to get some Republicans on board and make budgets go through smoothly, as he managed to get the GOP nomination and win statewide office. Whitman could conceivably do so as well, though she starts at a disadvantage (though she would be the state's first female governor). The only other remotely plausible person whose name has been bandied about is that of Condi Rice, whose attachment to the Bush Administration seems like an insurmountable obstacle. Still, that could be interesting.

On the Democrats' side, I suspect that Jerry Brown has a better chance of being the once and future governor than most people think. For one thing, he's been elected to the office before and knows how to make a pitch to Californians. There is a bit of a strain of fiscal conservatism present in California, and Brown knows how to appeal to it, and his actions as state AG on Prop 8 are likely to win him favor among progressives. Brown's disadvantage is that his base is Oakland and not San Francisco or Los Angeles, but I suspect that he'd carve a lot out of Gavin Newsom's base if both wound up running. Newsom is supposedly interested in the job but I find it unlikely he'd go anywhere, as he has a political tin ear, which was represented in his obnoxious Prop 8 quote that was a large part of what turned around the gay marriage debate. Brown could probably hit him hard over that. I suspect Brown will manage to lock down most of the San Francisco Bay Area in the end, which is huge. However, it's not nearly as big as Los Angeles, which will be tough for Brown to beat if Tony Villaraigosa winds up running. Villaraigosa might have been hurt by his high-profile adultery, but his candidacy might well wind up unifying Latinos behind him. That would be tough to beat. I suspect that it would come down to which candidate manages to get big endorsements from Dem-leaning groups, like the California Nurses Association, the government workers' union and so forth. Support of these groups is key, and as Steve Westly's 2006 loss to Phil Angelides can instruct us, their support can make or break a candidate. The Westly case is particularly bothersome, as he would almost certainly have beaten Schwarzenegger in 2006. Angelides was a dead man walking from the moment he got the nomination--a man with no charisma and no ideas who was beholden to Democratic interest groups. I don't have a problem with any of those groups, but I do think that politicians must have independence to consider different ideas, which Angelides never did, and it's doubtful he would have used it if he had it.

I do wonder who the Dem establishment will back, though my guess is that it would be Brown, who is a longtime fixture of state politics and knows everybody. I do think that Brown would have a good chance of taking back the Governor's Mansion, especially since Arnold's numbers have been going the way of George W. Bush's and Brown has political skills, and his many political lives are in the past. Experience and fiscal sobriety--Brown's calling cards--might well be what California wants in 2010. I will say this: I will vote Republican if the Dems pick Gavin Newsom. If he does to the state what he's done to the cause of gay rights the last person out of the state might as well turn the lights off when they leave.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.