First impressions from the debate, which I watched, spin-free, on television from the safety of my Sacramento office:
Gray Davis got the first half-hour to himself, and he must have said 11 times that he was committed to “connecting” more with the voters. But like the writing teacher who used to say to us, “don’t tell me, show me,” I’d like to actually see Gray connecting rather than hearing him talk about it all night. When a lay questioner told him his story – unemployed tech engineer, angry, worried about jobs shipped overseas – Gray acknowledged his pain but then went on to say that he favored punishing corporations that register abroad to avoid paying taxes. I know if I were in that guy’s shoes, nothing would tick me off more than hearing the governor trying to score political points rather than addressing my concerns.
While everyone has been nagging Gray to admit the mistakes he claims to now realize he made, Cruz jumped in without even being asked and acknowledged that he was wrong to have voted for the 1996 bill that deregulated electricity in California, a bill of which he was a co-author. Perhaps he thinks that vote might yet come back to haunt him?
Arianna Huffington has a good thing going with her jihad against the prison industrial complex and the correctional officers union. She said she wants teachers to be paid more than prison guards and later said one theme of her campaign is “books, not bars.”
Tom McClintock’s performance reminded me of the old line that when you tell the truth, you don’t have to worry about keeping your stories straight. Whatever you might think of him and his ideas, it can’t be said that McClintock trims his sails to match his audience. This is a man who knows what he believes and isn’t going to be shaken from it. He also knows how to say it in 60 seconds if that is what you give him, or 30, or even 15. He distinguished himself as a conservative’s conservative, on everything from taxes to abortion, the death penalty, immigration and the environment. I still don’t think he’s in the mainstream of the electorate, but he has the look of a guy who is willing to wait for the rest of us to figure out what he’s known all along.
Peter Ueberroth looked lackluster and unsure of himself once again. I did like the way he kept bringing everything back to the jobs issue, to the point that he even drew a back-handed compliment from the moderator for staying “on message.” He also resolutely stuck to his pledge not to criticize anyone, for anything. I thought he might have wanted to reconsider that vow after Arianna, reacting to Ueberroth’s defense of corporations, asked, “How dumb is that on a scale of one to ten?” But no.
Peter Camejo struck a blow for political correctness when he noted that he was for allowing illegal immigrants to remain in California – that is, the descendants of illegal European immigrants who landed in America hundreds of years ago. Hah hah. But while he’s fine with the Latinos who he said had claim to this land for thousands of years, he was cool to the true natives, the Indian tribes, and their number one industry. “Casinos are not good thing,” he said.
Arnold might have been right after all to skip this debate. He certainly suffered no direct damage on television Wednesday for his absence. A few Warren Buffett comments and one cute line from Cruz. Had he been there, he might have outshone these folks, but then again he might have been dragged down to their level. By staying away it’s possible he might have left some viewers wishing he were there, not so they could see him grilled by a panel of journos but so he could brighten the afternoon a bit. Of course, he is likely to take a bigger beating in the morning papers, which will make more of his absence and keep the buzz going about his unwillingness to answer questions.
The big winner in the debate: marijuana. All five candidates declared their support for making it available for medicinal purposes. It was the only thing on which they all agreed.
UPDATE: AskJeeves.Com founder Garrett Gruener, a Democrat running for governor, attended the debate and answered the questions in real time on his web site. He seems to have snuck in a few phantom questions while he was at it, as if there weren't enough asked as it was. God bless him. Here's the link.
Posted by dweintraub at 9:00 PM
The Fair Political Practices Commission has filed suit today against Ward Connerly and the American Civil Rights Coalition seeking to force Connerly to disclose the source of nearly $2 million in contributions toward his campaign for Proposition 54, the racial privacy initiative. According to the commission, this is the first time the FPPC has ever filed suit to force disclosure of campaign contributions before an election. Here is the FPPC press release on the matter.
Posted by dweintraub at 3:25 PM
Don’t trust the polls? How about the betting parlor? The futures contracts on the recall at tradesports.com have shown a steady decline in confidence in an Arnold victory along with a steady rise in expectations for Cruz. Today, for the first time, the two have flipped positions and Cruz is considered the more likely winner. This is the same kind of intelligence-gathering operation proposed by Admiral Pointdexter for ferreting out terror plots before Congress got wind of his scheme and pressured the White House to kill the idea….Of course, given the relatively small number of trades, the recall futures market is probably prone to manipulation by insider trading.
Posted by dweintraub at 2:31 PM
The MoveOn.Org political action committee, which supports left-leaning candidates with an Internet-based political network, is moving on to the recall campaign. The group is asking its members for help in generating 1 million online pledges from Californians pledging to vote against the recall. The pledge drive bears watching because MoveOn has demonstrated the ability to use the Internet to generate political action, and the recall itself was birthed in part with help from the Internet. Oddly enough, however, the MoveOn campaign is titled “recall no, democracy yes” and claims that the recall is anti-democratic. Perhaps the MoveOn folks haven’t heard about the 1.3 million valid signatures on the recall petitions or the 8 million or more voters expected to turn out on Oct. 7. If anything, the recall can be criticized for being too democratic. Anti-democratic it most assuredly is not.
Posted by dweintraub at 12:14 PM
Arnold’s putting out two more ads today, neither of which is as catchy as the commercial attacking special interest influence that he released yesterday. Both ads show him talking about the budget with campaign volunteers in a cafeteria setting. In what almost seems like a playful jab at the political press, Arnold tells his listeners in one of the ads that his campaign is all about “big change” and adds that “the people have a right to know what that means for them.” He then offers his “plan” for fixing the budget: “Audit everything, open the books. And then, we end the crazy deficit spending.” Will this mean cutting education, someone asks. “No,” Arnold says flatly. “We can fix this mess without hurting the schools. For me, the children come first. Always have. Always will.”
Arnold’s “plan” is of course more of a slogan than a blueprint for change. The outline he’s sketched so far – cutting the car tax while protecting school spending – would force him to cut about $12 billion from the $45 billion portion of the budget not spent on K-12 public education. And he has offered no specific ideas about how he would do this. The audit he describes is supposed to tell him how big the deficit really is, not what to cut, so it’s not as if they would help him chart his course.
These ads are aimed at voters who aren’t paying much attention, are upset about deficit spending, want to shake things up but don’t want to give anything up. In that sense they are aimed squarely at the California mainstream. But unless Arnold is going to offer a more detailed prescription for how to balance the budget without deep cuts or tax increases, he’s being intellectually dishonest.
Posted by dweintraub at 11:06 AM
A funny thing has happened in the past couple of days. After posting item after item ripping Schwarzenegger for his refusal to answer questions, for his refusal to debate, for his lack of specifics and for specifics that don’t add up, for breaking his promises on negative campaigning and on accepting special interest money, I posted a few items critical of Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. Suddenly readers (some Democratic officials, some not) are questioning my “objectivity.” One said the “relish” with which I attacked Cruz while giving Arnold a “free pass” was unbecoming of a political journalist in my position.
So let me clarify: I am an opinion writer. I express my opinions. Ideologically, from what I can tell, Schwarzenegger is closer to my view of the world than Cruz. When I am weighing in on public policy, about taxes and spending and regulation and government mandates on employers, my takes are going to tend to be closer to Arnold’s than to Bustamante’s. But when I am talking about integrity, honesty, claims, campaign tactics and the like, I play no favorites, and never have.
Fortunately, all of my posts are archived under the button to the right side of this page. But here's a helpful cheat-sheet for those keeping score at home:
On September 1, after Arnold’s appearance at the state fair, I criticized him for ducking questions, and said his campaign tactics were creating an impression that he is “unwilling or unable to answer tough questions. By extension, the message is that he is unprepared to govern.”
On August 27, I criticized Arnold for taking special interest money after saying he wouldn’t, suggesting his flip-flop made him look “like a hypocrite or a liar.”
On August 26, I criticized Arnold for taking a personal swipe at Cruz after promising to refrain from negative campaigning. The attack, I said, “makes him look small.”
On August 25, in my first post on Arnold taking special interest money, I said his flip-flop presented a “mixed message, to put it mildly, and an outright distortion or lie, if you want to place it in the worst light.”
On August 22, when Arnold’s campaign said he wouldn’t join in the first debate, I said the decision “made him look like the calculating pols he is supposedly trying to sweep out of the Capitol.”
And on Aug. 20, I said Arnold’s declaration that he could repeal the car tax, raise no other taxes and still balance the budget while leaving education off the table was “not a reasonable proposition.”
Posted by dweintraub at 9:37 AM
Gun control is often a big issue in California campaigns for governor. It's one of the hot-buttons with which Democrats have hit Republican candidates in recent years. In this race it's almost been lost in the shuffle, which is probably a good thing, given that its past prominence has been completely out of proportion to its importance as an issue affecting the day-to-day lives of most Californians. But for die-hards, the Bee today presents a comprehensive look at the candidates' positions on gun issues, which among other things reveals new details about Arnold's take on weapons and the state's role in controlling their use. He appears to be in favor of most of the recent and proposed legislation pushed by Democrats. If you are looking for a Second Amendment candidate, Tom McClintock is your man. Here is the story. For those of you with access to the print version of the story, it comes with a handy chart comparing the candidates' posiitons.
Posted by dweintraub at 6:32 AM
In 2000 the voters of California approved a ballot measure limiting contributions to candidates to an amount now set at $21,200. On Tuesday the Viejas Tribe of Indians announced it would give Cruz Bustamante $1.5 million toward his campaign for governor. The tribe and the Bustamante campaign believe they can accomplish this exchange because Bustamante, as an incumbent, had a campaign committee in place before the law limiting contributions passed. Typically voters pay little attention to campaign money and candidates exploiting what they believe are loopholes in the law. But in a campaign in which one of the major issues is the influence of special interests on state government, and Gov. Gray Davis' devotion to them, it will be interesting to see if voters embrace a candidate who so openly flouts the spirt of the law, not just any law, but a law passed by the people. I opposed Proposition 34 because I believe all such limits are misguided, and I favor immediate and full disclosure of all contributions while letting the voters decide whether the money is important to them. But it's the law of the land. And as long as it is, as a voter, I expect every candidate to follow it. I think Bustamante's refusal to do so raises important questions about his commitment to the rule of law generally, and whether this would set a precedent for how he would act as governor. Here is the Bee's complete story on the matter.
UPDATE: Here is a comprehensive story by LA Times writer Dan Morain explaining the campaign finance rules and the various loopholes. Morain is the California journalist who knows more about campaign finance than anyone else and writes about it with authority. Registration required.
Posted by dweintraub at 6:22 AM
The California Broadcasters Association is taking a lot of heat lately for its decision to release questions in advance of its debate scheduled for Sept. 24. Since this was an idea I first floated to the association as a member of an advisory panel on gubernatorial debates, I want to defend their decision and explain the rationale again.
The point is not just to let the candidates know the questions. The point is to let the public know the questions, in hopes of stimulating discussion in advance on the key issues the candidates will confront. The candidates and their staffs can usually predict most of the questions that will come in a typical debate. But the phony spontaneity of the events allows the politicians to get away with evasive answers that dodge the questions while quickly moving to prepared talking points. By publishing the questions in advance, the hope is that viewers will be looking for more complete answers and will more easily spot the evasions. If the plan works as hoped, the major newspapers will publish the questions along with a guide to viewers offering background on the issues at stake.
For example, suppose one of the questions is, “Do you believe that the budget can be balanced without a tax increase, and if so, how?” Publishing this ahead of time is not going to give any candidate an advantage. They all know that such a question is likely to come in a debate. But it’s a crucial question for the public to be discussing, and it would be great if the newspapers provided in advance an in-depth backgrounder on the budget numbers, the size of the shortfall, where most of the money goes and what might have to be cut if taxes are not raised. They would have this information not only as they watched the debate but before and after as they batted the questions around with family, friends and co-workers.
Is all of this a bit idealistic? Sure. But the point of a campaign debate is not to measure on-stage performance skills, which are never again put to such a test in the real life of a politician. It’s to engage candidates and voters in a discussion of the issues that matter to the state. This format has a better chance of doing that than any ever used before.
Posted by dweintraub at 6:11 AM