With the shipwreck otherwise known as California’s budget crisis making most Californians feel like castaways marooned on a deserted island without the basic necessities, three GOP gubernatorial candidates have emerged claiming to have the survival skills to rescue us from our misery.
But seeing these three hopefuls in action is more like watching the characters on an episode of Gilligan’s Island bumble through a foiled escape plan than finding the serious life-boat California needs to turn our state around.
If I had to assign characters to each of them, Steve Poizner would be the “Skipper,” Tom Campbell would be the “Professor” and Meg Whitman would be “Thurston Howell, III.”
Let’s start with Steve “the Skipper” Poizner – if his performance at Monday’s Press Club luncheon is any indication, it is clear that this guy is chronically in a bad mood, much like the grumpy Skipper character on the show. Maybe Poizner’s apparent irritation at the world will help him capture the “mad as hell” voters on the far right in a Republican Primary, but I don’t know how this unhappy camper wins over voters in a general election. Though many pundits have said that Arnold Schwarzenegger would never have won in a Republican Primary without the “perfect storm” created by the Recall Election, at least he knew how to woo the voters of California with a certain amount of charm and people skills that don’t seem to be in Poizner’s genetic makeup.
At the same debate, Poizner even emulated the classic Skipper head-conk by bashing his fellow Republican Senator Abel Maldonado and making a pretty incendiary claim that he “sold his vote” on the state budget. As a resident on the shrinking island of California GOP politics, I can’t imagine that this gratuitous attack helps him build any alliances for survival. The fact remains, at the end of the day, even cranky voters need someone to lift them up – and this “Skipper” doesn’t seem to have it in him.
Also aboard the ill-fated S.S. Minnow, there’s Tom “the Professor” Campbell. Much like the professor on Gilligan’s Island, Campbell just can’t seem to help himself from speaking to the public as if he’s lecturing a class. Pulling out an actual “white board” at the Press Club luncheon, Campbell feverishly jotted down facts and figures about his budget proposal as his opening statement. Though I find that his “solution” would be harmful to the future of our state by making devastating cuts to our schools and health care system, you have to give “the Professor” some credit for at least putting forward an actual plan. Much like the professor on the show, however, Campbell is still struggling to be relevant – and his easy-going manner won’t help him in a furious fundraising fight against two Primary opponents with strong personalities and giant checkbooks.
And finally on the GOP version of Gilligan’s Island, Meg Whitman clearly fits the profile of the East Coast elitist Thurston Howell, III. Though the character comparison may not be gender-accurate, Whitman certainly is projecting the traits of someone who thinks she is superior to the masses and is undeniably out-of-touch. Her refusal to attend yesterday’s California Press Club luncheon (or even return their phone call) certainly drew the ire of the debate moderator and some reporters in the room, as Whitman once again snubbed her the California press corps in favor of doing a softball interview on national television. This continued “Sarah Palin press strategy” of avoiding conversations with serious political reporters only marginalizes Whitman as she fails to address some of California’s most urgent concerns.
Though she did speak to a friendly audience at the carefully staged Roseville Chamber of Commerce luncheon last week, Whitman’s performance was long on recycled platitudes and woefully short on specifics. Using the dated Republican quip “our state doesn’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” Whitman apparently doesn’t live the same state as the rest of us – one that is facing a $23 billion deficit. At this point, even the most ardent conservatives have to acknowledge that we do have a revenue “problem” – so perhaps Whitman would be better served to emulate her self-proclaimed hero, Ronald Reagan, and come up with a real revenue solution to closing a state budget gap.
Instead, she continues to take pandering shots at California state employees, saying she will cut the state’s workforce by up to 40,000 workers, but refusing to give specifics. That’s because she knows that as soon as her layoff victims are no longer nameless and faceless, but instead beloved members of communities across California, like teachers, firefighters, nurses, prison guards and police officers, the idea will become a whole lot less popular – and so will she.
One hard reality that Thurston Howell had to face was that no amount of money could buy his way off of the island. This is a lesson that Whitman, who has already pledged to spend $150 million of her fortune on her campaign, has yet to learn.
The fact is that the GOP isn’t the SOS that California needs to rebuild our shipwreck, and that with this cast of characters, much like on the show, we’ll never get off the deserted island.