Money wins in CA election

by CalWatchdog Staff | June 9, 2010 10:04 am

JUNE 9, 2010


The entry level of personal worth for winning the GOP nomination for governor now is $1 billion. That’s the net worth of Meg Whitman[1], who won yesterday’s primary nomination for governor. That’s up from the more than $100 million set by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his 2006 re-election bid.

And for U.S. senator, the entry level is some tens of millions of dollars. That’s the net worth of Carly Fiorina[2], who got the party’s nod for U.S. Senate. The previous nominee was former Assemblyman Dick Mountjoy[3], of modest means.

The fall election will tell if such attributes are attractive to voters. But both candidates didn’t have the shoo-in races enjoyed by their Democratic rivals, Jerry Brown for governor and Barbara Boxer for U.S. senator.

Meg and Carly are a GOP version of the female tandem the Democrats put on the ballot in 1992, Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Both were running for U.S. Senate seats. They called themselves the “Thelma and Louise[4]” of California, after the duo of the popular 1991 Ridley Scott movie about two women on the lam.

Writing in the Orange County Register at the time, I was the only one who pointed out that, at the end of the film, Thelma and Louise drove off a cliff.

In any case, in 1992 Dianne and Barbara won, and have held office since.

In 2010, both Republican candidates started out appealing to moderate voters, assuming easy primary victories and looking forward to the November general election. The then were surprised by surging opponents in the polls: Steve Poizner against Whitman, and Tom Campbell and Chuck DeVore against Fiorina.

Both lady candidates then shifted and showed that, once again in GOP primaries, “the path to victory runs to the right,” Jack Pitney told me; he’s Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.

He added that, currently, “Both Brown and Boxer are ahead in the polls. They’re favorites in the fall. But their leads are not insurmountable. Brown, in particular, bears the burden of his long political history. This is his fifth statewide race. When he started in politics, he was the exciting, young superstar. Now he’s running as a grizzled veteran.”

Whitman, he added, “should use the word ‘old’ whenever discussing Jerry Brown and his policies.”

Brown no doubt has many tricks up his sleeves, beginning with heavy support from the state’s powerful government-worker unions. As the most powerful of all, the California Teachers Association, gloated on its Web site[5]:

On Sept. 22, 1975, then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed CTA-sponsored Senate Bill 160 by state Sen. Al Rodda, known as the Educational Employment Relations Act or the Rodda Act, to give California public school teachers collective bargaining rights.

Doing so allowed public-sector unions, unlike those in the private sector, to sit on both sides of the bargaining table: on the labor side, but also on the management side by dominating the politicians who write the spending bills.

However, as my colleague Steven Greenhut pointed out[6] last evening, “The only good news is that the state’s problems are so big that it doesn’t really matter who gets elected governor and the Senate is so hopeless it doesn’t matter who becomes senator.”

To prevent the state’s bond rating falling to junk bond status, either Brown or Whitman probably will try to balance the budget with spending cuts and tax increases. It likely that won’t work any better for them than it has for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, another rich businessman, with Hollywood glamour to boot, who failed to tame this ungovernable state.

Carly vs. Barbara

Carly Fiorina may not be quite as rich as Meg Whitman, but she also faces a challenging opponent. Barbara Boxer is another “grizzled veteran,” having won close races against several GOP candidates. She also goes for the jugular.

In her 1992 campaign against Republican Bruce Herschensohn[7], several times I urged him to bring up Boxer’s 143 bounced [8]checks in the taxpayer-backed House of Representatives Bank. Too much a gentleman, he didn’t do so until he had been sucker-punched by Boxer near the end of the campaign. A Democratic operative linked to Boxer leaked to the press the story that Herschensohn had once gone to a strip club.

That took the wind out of Herschensohn’s campaign, and he lost. Ironically, and hypocritically for Democrats, that was the year Bill Clinton was elected president, with strong backing from Boxer, despite repeated “bimbo eruptions” haunting his campaign. At least Bruce only looked.

Fiorina also will have a hard time getting her message through the barrage of ads Whitman will be funding this fall. And for both Republican candidates, a major hurdle is that, every day, California becomes an increasingly Democratic state. President Obama won here by more than 3 million votes.

Double Abel win

The double winner yesterday was Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado. He won the GOP’s nomination for lieutenant governor. And he won with the passage of Proposition 14, which established an essentially nonpartisan primary system beginning after this election.

Maldonado was pilloried by Republicans after his vote in February 2009 for Gov. Schwarzenegger’s record $13 billion tax increase. He was one of the two GOP state senators needed to join with the majority Democrats on the bill’s passage.

In return, the governor and the Legislature put Prop. 14 on the ballot. Maldonado won this primary because nobody much watches the lieutenant governor’s race. But should he run for governor in, say, 2018, he would have a hard time in a partisan primary as his opponents would remind voters of his vote for the tax increase.

This way, he can run in the primary as a non-partisan candidate and garner many non-Republican votes, thus possibly landing one of the two top spot in the general election.

Goodbye, Third Parties

As I wrote back in February[9] on, Prop. 14’s passage effectively kills third parties. That’s what happened when a similar initiative passed in Washington state. Adios, Green Party, American Independent Party, Libertarian Party and Peace and Freedom Party.

Despite their rhetoric, California’s two major parties already are very close together on most issues. It’s hard to see much difference between recalled Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, and his replacement, Schwarzenegger, a Republican strongly endorsed by his party in 2006. Arnold’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, even was Davis’ cabinet secretary.

And as noted, the GOP keeps fading away, making California an emerging one-party state. That’s even more so now with third parties snuffed out.

Prop. 14’s proponents said it would bring to power politicians more eager to deal with the state’s problems. “Here and there it might make a difference in an election,” Pitney said. “But it won’t make a radical difference in California politics. Supporters said it would affect budget negotiations. But no procedural efforts will make the budget any better.”

John Seiler, an editorial writer with The Orange County Register for 19 years, is a reporter and analyst for His email: [email protected].

  1. Meg Whitman:
  2. Carly Fiorina:
  3. Dick Mountjoy:
  4. Thelma and Louise:
  5. gloated on its Web site:
  6. pointed out:
  7. Herschensohn:
  8. 143 bounced :
  9. As I wrote back in February:

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