Tag Archives: Pete Wilson

Pete Wilson Just Says It: Donnelly Is Bad for GOP Viability

060510ED-0744Former governor worries at message he would send to voters

by Brian Leubitz

Back in 1994, Pete Wilson leveraged nativism and Prop 187 to a big re-election win over Kathleen Brown. But, apparently there is a bridge too far, and his name is Tim Donnelly: (h/t to David Siders)

“I respect and share the concern of Tea Party and other California voters who are determined to reverse the growth in the size and cost of our state government. I strongly urge them to vote for a candidate for Governor whose campaign can compel the public to focus on reform of our failing public schools and of the tax and regulatory burdens that are driving companies and good jobs out of California.

Neel Kashkari can and will produce such a campaign. Tim Donnelly will not because he cannot.

Keeping public focus on the real and important issues facing California will require a candidate who does not have to defend Tim Donnelly’s bizarre votes and statements or his irresponsible personal behavior. Donnelly’s record – not California’s critical challenges – is what would inescapably become the focus of a Donnelly campaign.

With Tim Donnelly on the ballot, it would be a losing campaign, risking injury to our party and our state, and to other Republican candidates who deserve to win.” (FlashReport)

Ouch! Now, unfortunately for Wilson and the GOP, the conservative base seems to like them some crazy. With the ballots already out, whether Kashkari can pick up the momentum he needs to pull into second is still a very open question. Meg Whitman and her millions of dollars aren’t walking through the door anytime soon, and the future of GOP as a viable party in California is looking rather hazy.

Prop 187, Pete Wilson, and the CRP

Governor Pete Wilson and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley at Los Angeles Metro subway opening day, January 29, 1993New York Times looks at the fallout of Prop 187 and anti-immigration politics

by Brian Leubitz

In 1994, Pete Wilson was looking at an election that was something of a risky proposition. The economy, like most of the country, was scuttling, and his favorable numbers weren’t doing so well.  As the race for the Democratic nomination shaped up with Kathleen Brown (sister of the current governor) easing to victory over (now Congressman) John Garamendi and Tom Hayden, the dynamic was not looking to be an easy win for Wilson.

Yet in November, Wilson had claimed a 15 point victory over Brown. What happened in those years? Before Karl Rove rose to national prominence, and this became a term, it was Rovian politics at its best. Wilson knew he needed something to both turn out his base as well as tear some undecided voters, whatever the cost.  The cost turns out to be the future viability of the California Republican party by going all out for Proposition 187, the egregiously (and unconstitutionally) anti-immigrant measure that would have blocked the state to providing most services to immigrants.

It worked in 1994, with the issue serving as a wedge that motivated the majority white voting bloc to lean heavily towards Wilson. Yet, just as surely as it worked in 1994, the fallout has been devastating to the CRP. Every few years, some reporter writes about the legacy of Prop 187.

As Congress begins debating an overhaul of the immigration system, many in California sense that the country is just now beginning to go through the same evolution the state experienced over the last two decades. For a generation of Republicans, Gov. Pete Wilson’s barrages on the impact of immigration in the 1990s spoke to their uneasiness with the way the state was changing. Now many California Republicans point to that as the beginning of their downfall.

*** **** ***

“The fact that the Republican Party got identified with anti-immigration has made things very difficult for them,” said Mark Baldassare, the president of the Public Policy Institute of California, which closely monitors shifts in the state. “It is what is going on nationally now, but California started much earlier.”(NYT)

The Republicans are now attempting to dig themselves out of that mess, but it takes more than a few platitudes to make up for a generation of words and deeds. The demographics make it nearly impossible to win statewide election without a considerable portion of the Latino vote. And, interestingly enough, this is where Texas looks like it may be following in California’s footsteps. The two states now have nearly half of the nation’s Latino population, and both are rapidly growing.

California has always been on the leading edge, especially in politics. As goes California, so goes the nation. Jim Brulte and his CRP compatriots have a lot of colleagues in the same boat across the nation. Changing the dialogue is a gargantuan task, and one that may terrify much of the activist base.

Photo credit: Metro Transportation Library and Archive. Gov. Pete Wilson with LA Mayor Tom Bradley

Brian Bilbray and Carl DeMaio: San Diego’s Republican Shapeshifters

If there’s one thing that’s been particularly consistent to campaigns of the far right in San Diego this fall, it’s the unusually desperate attempts to hide the real agenda from voters. It’s one that should be cause for optimism as long as voters pay attention, and betrays an almost impressive self-awareness from the top of the GOP that the party’s agenda has drifted well outside the mainstream.

From the special exemptions of Prop 32 to Brian Bilbray’s teetering re-election bid to Carl DeMaio’s bizarre mayoral campaign, extreme conservatives are doing everything they can to hide their record and who they are.

For the backers of Proposition 32, the deception was part of the design from the very beginning. They surveyed the political landscape and found that, unsurprisingly, nobody wants millionaires and corporations to be able to buy off our political process. Rather than abandon a wildly unpopular idea, they came up with a different plan: fake it.  

Cross-posted from San Diego Free Press

That’s Prop 32, from the same white knights of campaign finance reform who broke the system to begin with by using the Citizens United case to overthrow existing regulations on special interest money. This year, they simply took it a step further, called the plan reform and packed in enough special exemptions to create a system that only works for corporations and millionaires.

It makes sense because everyone wants campaign finance reform. But the reason they want campaign finance reform is specifically because of what Prop 32’s backers have done and continue to do.

The hundreds of millions of unregulated, unlimited political cash flowing into SuperPACs exists specifically because of Prop 32’s backers, and now its being funded by the Koch Brothers and other super-rich conservatives that saw Citizens United as the starting pistol to buy off democracy. Prop 32’s hoping to trick voters. Will they see through it?

At the same time, there’s Brian Bilbray. He has cobbled together a decades-long career of faking moderation when election time comes around, but the reality just doesn’t match the myth he’s built for himself when push comes to shove. Bilbray wants to cast himself as an environmentalist, but mustered just a 17% score on the League of Conservation Voters 2011 scorecard. And it was Bilbray’s early work trying to gut the Clean Water Act that once inspired Donna Frye to become a clean water activist.

He’s done his best to avoid the ramifications of the national GOP’s war on women, right on through to Todd Akin’s ‘legitimate rape’ comments. But the reality of his record remains, including a pitiful 8% score from Planned Parenthood’s scorecard. Brian Bilbray may not want to be lumped in with the war on women, but if that’s what he’s hoping for, maybe he shouldn’t have signed up for it in the first place.

All of that could maybe be overlooked if Bilbray had taken up the mantle of the millions of Americans devastated when the economy fell apart near the end of the Bush administration. But while Bilbray will certainly have populist talking points on the stump, it’s worth remembering that he voted for the Paul Ryan plan to dismantle Medicare and destroy Social Security in response to increased economic security.

And Bilbray’s plan for economic recovery? One part rewarding tax-evading corporate interests, one part Let them eat a Yacht Race! Not exactly your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.

For Carl DeMaio, the attempt to whitewash nearly twenty years as a professional politician has been even more depraved than elsewhere. After coming up with the likes of Newt Gingrich, Virginia Thomas, the Jack Abramoff crew, and the Koch Brothers, it seems to have dawned on Carl that the city of San Diego, well… really doesn’t like that at all.

During his tenure on the council, DeMaio has received the lowest cumulative score on the annual Environmental Quality Report Card. And despite being appointed since joining the council, DeMaio hasn’t appeared in the minutes of a single meeting of the San Dieguito River Valley Regional Open Space Joint Powers Authority since January 2011.

Reality didn’t matter to DeMaio though when he took a week out to declare himself an environmentalist. He didn’t get very far with that, so he moved on to a plan to encourage biking by investing in more roads. Doesn’t make sense? It isn’t supposed to. It’s just supposed to distract from his career-long record on the wrong side of these issues.

Word on the street is, DeMaio spent some time recently trying for an endorsement from the Victory Fund, which led to an unexpected declaration from Carl that he was pro-choice. It has to be considered unexpected since it was certainly news to Planned Parenthood. Why? Because despite the clear reasons that choice matters at the local level, DeMaio has always refused to fill out Planned Parenthood’s questionnaire. And today, if you’re looking for pro-choice candidates in November, you sure aren’t going to find Carl DeMaio on the list.

There are still more examples. He runs as a fiscal conservative while voting against hundreds of millions in taxpayer savings and getting the BS treatment from Mayor Jerry Sanders. He tried out medical marijuana but that fell flat once anyone read past Carl’s own statement.

He took a quick stab at being for the middle class and affordable housing over the summer, trying to pass off support from a landlord group as support for tenants. The claims were called “preposterous,” and the former CEO of the San Diego Housing Commission said in no uncertain terms that “Carl DeMaio is not an advocate for more affordable housing.”

Heck, DeMaio has even tried reaching out to the Latino community while trumpeting an endorsement from Pete Wilson, the father of Proposition 187. And after casting the only vote on the council in support of Arizona’s SB1070, his Latino outreach has featured a plan to have local police enforce federal immigration law.

The most amazing part is the special brand of doublethink that DeMaio has going on in all this. He isn’t just making up an entirely new self for the general election, he’s doing it while criticizing others for the same thing. Like last week at the KPBS mayoral debate:

“The U-T CEO mentioned that he got support from labor, and yet labor has not supported it, that he got support from business groups, but very few groups that are out there have supported the plan,” DeMaio said. “And so I just think that the email probably was making some claims that are not grounded in reality.”

Now, it wouldn’t be shocking to discover the UT making claims that are not grounded in reality. But compare that to DeMaio’s recent record. He’s an affordable housing advocate unless you ask affordable housing advocates. He’s an environmentalist unless you ask environmentalists. He’s a medical marijuana advocate unless you ask medical marijuana advocates. He’s pro-choice unless you ask Planned Parenthood. He’s a friend to the Latino community except for wanting them to be harassed by the police. He’s a fiscal conservative except for imposing a billion dollar tax increase without a vote of the public.

But when Doug Manchester and John Lynch — the very same duo who helped DeMaio defeat essentially the same tax increase in 2005 — don’t poll well, then maybe reality has come loose.

Does it work? Maybe not with anyone who has the time and interest to dig into the substance. But those who never catch more than headlines because they have lives full of working to make ends meet, struggling with health care bills, working into retirement thanks to Wall Street, trying to figure out what to do after a foreclosure… they understandably won’t ever have that time.

And that’s the whole idea. Keep up the game of whack-a-mole long enough that voters never get a chance to examine the truth.

It’s said that great writers steal outright, so here’s a heartfelt tip of the cap to the inimitable Ann Richards before saying: Poor Carl.

He’s never once had a job that asked him to appeal to a majority, or even anyone resembling moderates. So now that he’s stuck in a general election, he’s like Columbus discovering America. He’s found the environment. He’s found the middle class and working people. He’s found women. He’s found the sick and suffering. He’s found Latinos.

Poor Carl. He can’t help it. San Diego just doesn’t want what he’s been selling his whole life.

I’m proud to work for San Diegans for Bob Filner for Mayor 2012

Redistricting Referendum Gets Wilson’s Support

Former Governor Joins Effort to Overturn Commission’s Maps

by Brian Leubitz

While Arnold Schwarzenegger was all over the place in his effort to pass the redistricting measure on the ballot a few years back, his fellow California Republicans were very mixed on the subject.  Some supported it out of team jersey loyalty, while others just weren’t comfortable with an unknown entity.

It seems that discomfort lingers, as the Republican Senate Caucus, along with some other rich Republicans, is attempting to kill the maps.  They now have a brand new, and high profile, ally:

Wilson and other GOP leaders have sent out a fundraising appeal to help finance a referendum drive that would give the state’s voters a chance to repeal the maps drawn by a Citizens Redistricting Commission. The GOP leaders say in a five-page memo to several thousand potential donors that the new districts could help give Democrats a two-thirds majority in the Senate. …

“The state Senate lines drawn by the California Redistricting Commission virtually guarantee a Democrat Super-majority in the California State Senate in 2012,” the mailer added. “A successful drive to put a referendum on the June 2012 ballot is the best way to prevent this from happening.” (LA Times)

And perhaps they are right, as the maps do put a few additional seats in the toss-up column and make a 2/3 majority in the Legislature possible.  It seems more likely in the Senate, and that’s why we are seeing the Republican Senate caucus pouring money into the initiative.

But the problem for the Republicans is that even a victory at the ballot doesn’t mean that they’ll get what they want.  If they do get an initiative on the ballot, the district lines will be tossed to the judges.  And while there are more Republicans on the Court, they aren’t really the idealogues that the Republicans really want.  And they are very process-y, which would seem to indicate that they would prefer something similar to the maps as drawn by the commission.

But, right now they are sitting at just $92,500, and they are going to need a lot more money fast to get the referendum on the ballot.

Pete Wilson’s Resurgence

Pete Wilson has a long and sordid past in this state.  Casting aside some of his early work in San Diego, his run as Senator left something to be desired, to say the least. He considered himself a “fiscal conservative”, going so far as to go by the moniker of “Watchdog of the Treasury.”  Yet all the while, he was one of the bigger supporters of the Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) in the Senate, despite the fact that SDI never showed any glimmer of actually being able to do anything.

And then, as he comes back to California to be governor as some sort of victory lap, where he proceed to well and truly make the situation worse.  He never met an insurance reform bill that he wouldn’t veto for a bit of campaign cash from the industry, and apparently couldn’t find room in his heart from a plea from Mother Theresa on a death penalty case.

Besides his cruel veto of a workplace discrimination protection measure for gay and lesbian Californians, he went on to pass the vile Proposition 187 along with his re-election bid of 1994.  He used the measure to beat Kathleen Brown over the head with the issue, despite the fact that the measure was unconstitutional on its face.  That it was later ruled as such by federal courts didn’t really make a difference for Wilson. After all, he had been re-elected.

Toss in a few anti-labor measures, and there you have a quick summary of Wilson’s career. I suppose at this juncture, I should point out the work he did for reparations for Japanese internment victims, but his record is hardly one of a lifelong commitment to civil rights.  So, this is where he re-enters the game in a big way.  He is now the co-chair of the campaigns of both Meg Whitman and Steve Cooley. And he’s doing everything he can for both of them.

To reduce Wilson’s role in Whitman’s campaign to the immigration issue or to one “tough as nails” radio ad, however, is to miss the significance of his involvement.

Early in the contest, Wilson’s support was significant in signaling to GOP insiders that Whitman, with no political experience, could run a credible campaign.

He came with a Rolodex full of donors and consultants, many of whom helped Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger win election. He also had the perspective of being a former two-term governor and U.S. senator. If Whitman cared to talk strategy, he is the the only Republican to have defeated her Democratic opponent in an election.(SacBee)

You think that’s some big involvement? How about the fact that Steve Cooley has said on numerous occasions that it was the former Governor that recruited him for the AG’s race, rather than the other way around.  Wilson has taken to the role of elder statesmen (or Obi-Wan as the article called him) of the GOP.

But this course is not without risks.  Californians should not forget his role in Prop 187, and his cynical use of families as a wedge issue. Or his fight against the right to organize through his so-called “paycheck protection” measure.  Wilson had it all planned out, and he is still trying to pull the strings on the marionettes. One can only hope we are better at seeing through Whitman than we were cutting through Wilson’s bull.

Tell Meg Whitman: Send Pete Wilson Packing

Call Meg Whitman at (408) 400-3887 and tell her if she wants to be a Governor of all Californians she needs to fire Pete Wilson.


For many California Latinos, “Pete” is truly a four-letter word.

Remember “They Keep Coming”?

In 1994, Republican Pete Wilson used Proposition 187 to win re-election to the California Governor’s Office.

“In the gubernatorial race, Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican whose re-election bid has been based in large part on his support for the initiative, put two new 187 television advertisements on the air today.” – B. Drummond Ayres, New York Times, 10/25/94

This extremist initiative sought to deny even the most basic public services – things like health care and education – to undocumented workers and their children.

“Proposition 187…would prohibit public education, social services and nonemergency public health care for illegal immigrants, who are already ineligible for most noneducational state benefits.” – Associated Press, 1/20/95

“The law… would have removed undocumented children from public schools and denied…health care to people who were living in the state illegally.” – Anthony York, Salon.com, 7/30/99

Wilson’s divisive, cynical campaign of fear-mongering and immigrant-bashing earned him a reputation as "a monster…a Frankenstein" and "the ultimate bogeyman" to California's Latinos.

“To many California Latinos, former California Gov. Pete Wilson is ‘a monster … a Frankenstein,’ says Latino leader Arturo Vargas. United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez calls Wilson ‘the ultimate bogeyman’ for his advocacy of 1994's anti-immigration Proposition 187 that sealed his re-election.

“Analysts say Wilson's return – in name and policy – is bad news for Republicans hoping to reach out to Latino voters, who comprise 19 percent of the California electorate….

“…many Latinos older than 40 remember the fear and anger that Prop. 187 stirred in the community.” [Chronicle, 3/20]

“Go back to 1994, and look at the loss one after another of safe Republican seats. What do they have in common – growth of middle class Asian and Latino populations as these voters have moved to the suburbs and transformed formerly Republican areas into Democratic ones. That occurred in tandem with the last round of GOP immigrant bashing, 1994’s Proposition 187.” – Tony Quinn, Fox & Hounds Daily Blog, 3/23/10

“Proposition 187 was the beginning of the anti-immigrant brush fire that spread across the country between 1993 and 1996.” – Anthony York, Salon.com, 7/30/99

Fast forward to 2010. 

Now Republican Meg Whitman is running for Governor.

She claims to be a different kind of candidate and says she wants to reach out to Latinos. 

In November, [Meg] Whitman…promised ‘to involve Latinos in this campaign in a way that hasn't been seen in Republican politics in some time.’’ – San Francisco Chronicle, 3/20/10]

“… I’m reaching out to Latinos, I want Latinos to be part of this campaign…” – Meg Whitman, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times, 2/24/10

But who did she choose as her campaign chairman?  Pete Wilson

Wilson stands by Proposition 187, even though it was ruled unconstitutional by the courts.

“The long court fight over Proposition 187, which sought to bar illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits and services, was ended Monday by the federal judge who first found most of the initiative unconstitutional…” – Associated Press, 9/14/99

Pete Wilson made no apologies in 2002…

Republicans are still apologizing to Hispanics for Pete Wilson's immigration policies. Mr. Wilson himself, however, offers no apologies.” – John Harwood, Wall Street Journal, 5/3/02

“‘I was right then,’ says Mr. Wilson, who was elected to two terms each as the state's governor and U.S. senator, in a three-hour interview. ‘I'm right now. I think time has proven me right.’” – John Harwood, Wall Street Journal, 5/3/02

Pete Wilson makes no apologies in 2010…

“Wilson is unapologetic, telling The Chronicle this week that ‘what we did in '94 we did because we felt it was essential to protect the state. We did it because it was the right thing to do. It's still the right thing to do.’” – Joe Garofoli, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/20/10

If Meg Whitman wants to earn the trust of California's Latinos, the right thing for her to do is fire Pete Wilson, right now.

It’s time for Meg to send Pete packing.

Arnold and Westly Did It, Why Not eMeg?

I’m a bit of a cynic, and don’t typically fall for the populist rhetoric. Populist action? Yes. Rhetoric? Not as much. I’m all about taking banks to the woodshed, but don’t waste my time talking about it, just do it.

And the tax returns issue is something of a blend of the two. It’s more than mere rhetoric, as the state does have some interest in knowing just exactly how much you are earning, and where it is coming from.  These things tend to sway policy makers. Releasing tax returns has sort of become a standard of the least you can get away with. You have to do at least that much.  Arnold Schwarzenegger has released his tax records for election purposes, as has Steve Westly, Whitman’s colleague at eBay.

But Whitman, she won’t really say if she is going to do that:

“We will obviously comport with all the filing requirements for the state of California when you run for governor, and I may release my tax returns,” Whitman said in an interview at the Luxe Hotel in Bel Air. “We’ll see. But I’ll do it on my own timetable and not in response to the unions that are fronting for Jerry Brown.”

State campaign rules require candidates to disclose certain general financial interests prior to elections, but tax returns are not among them. Still, many wealthy candidates, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Controller Steve Westly, released their returns in past races. (LA Times blog)

Nice little distraction technique by tossing some red meat to the base and running in the other direction.  Of course, Level the Playing Field has been applying some pressure in this area, such as sending a letter to former Gov. Pete Wilson (PDF) asking him to either call on Whitman to release her returns or resign from Whitman’s campaign. (Wilson used to use the tax returns issue when he was running.) However, conservatives (including Poizner) have discussed the issue. Poizner says that he definitely will release his returns in order to create the “most open and accessible campaign.”

So what is it that Whitman has to hide? Where is it that her money is coming and going to? And why is she trying to hide that information?  Thing is, in the age of the internet, what wants to get out, will get out.  Whitman can either try to hide her record, and get surprised by it later, or she can just open up now.  Still, I’m not holding my breath for openness from the woman who is trying to buy her way into the governor’s office.

Pete Wilson and Meg Whitman: Just How Sympatico?

Last year, Meg Whitman rolled out her “Latino Coalition” at a Mexican restaurant (yes, really) and spoke to the crowd about entrepreneurialism and the spirit it takes to be successful in California.  Very heartwarming. yet, even in that heavily Republican room, she still found ways to anger the crowd.

And her opposition to driver’s licenses for the undocumented was a flop with the crowd  described by the media as “mostly Republicans.”


Whitman said she opposes drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, an answer met with silence by the crowd.

It is amazing that Whitman had the temerity to say something like this, too:


“I am a big believer in focus… in business and in life you can only do three things or four things at 100 percent. Let’s try this approach in government,” she said.

So either she’s going to only try real hard at three or four things as governor or just be terrible at many things. Sounds like a winning message. (Matt Ortega)

Another interesting angle to this story is the fact that Pete Wilson is the Chair of Whitman’s campaign. You know, Pete Wilson, the power behind Prop 187’s demonizing campaign.  Fortunately, somebody was kind enough to post some of Wilson’s campaign commercials, lest anybody forget just who Pete Wilson is.

So, is Meg Whitman trying to reach out to the Latino community just as a way to sat that she at least tried, or is she going to actually listen to the community? Because with somebody as polarizing as Wilson so heavily involved in the campaign, it just doesn’t seem as if she’s trying very hard. Wilson might be popular amongst the Minutemen crowd in the primary, but she’ll need to reach beyond them to win the general.

Sure, she can spend millions of dollars to plaster her image all over every TV in the state, and perhaps it will be enough to buy the Governor’s office.  But in order to function as a leader in this state, you actually have to pay more than lip service to all of the state’s communities. It’s a lesson that Arnold learned on the job, but it doesn’t look like Whitman will be getting a head-start.  

Latino In America San Francisco Edition

Last night I attended the advance screening and panel session of Latino in America a CNN produced series that will be airing tomorrow October 21 and 22nd.

By 2050, the U.S. Latino population is expected to nearly triple. This October, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien explores how Latinos are reshaping our communities and culture and forcing a nation of immigrants to rediscover what it means to be an American,” is the statement on CNN’s website to entice potential viewers. CNN has been working hard to market this four hour series by hosting advance screening parties across the nation. It’s obvious that the series is a serious effort to capture a larger share of the Hispanic market.

Despite their efforts, CNN which pledges itself as the ‘most trusted name in news’ is also the home of Lou Dobbs one of the most vitriolic anti immigrant voices in the media.  Presente.org  a national online advocacy organization has been running a very strong campaign to highlight the blatant lies Lou Dobbs spreads on his program. He has claimed that “Just about a third of our prison system is made up of illegal aliens.” But the Department of Justice reports that immigrants (legal and illegal) make just 6% of the prison population.  

After the screening there was a panel discussion led by CNN en Espanol’s anchor Gabriela Frias and a Q & A session with the audience. The panelists included a reporter from the San Jose Mercury Newspaper, one of the reporters who put together the series and retired Senator Art Torres. One of the more interesting questions asked, was about the hypocrisy of CNN promoting Latino in America while simultaneously hosting Lou Dobbs. Ms. Frias and the reporter from the series sidestepped the issue by responding that their job was to get good stories out and that Latinos in America have to be heard but they suggested contacting the powers that be of CNN to make the questioners view point’s heard. Sen. Art Torres responded that he felt Dobbs’ view points had marginalized him.

I asked the panel what they thought about the current California water policy issues and how Glen Beck and the Republican Party were using the Central Valley Latino community for their astroturf campaign. Sen. Torres said that

If they (the Republican Party) thought the Latino community was that stupid then they were in for a rude awakening akin to ‘Pee Wee Wilson’ and his disastrous Prop 187 campaign.

I was happy to hear Sen. Torres say this because that particular fight put many Latino boots on the ground in California for the Democratic Party. It was during the Prop 187 and 209 campaigns that I myself became more politically active and I see that time period as a defining point in my life for the path that I would eventually follow working full time in politics. As the Comprehensive Immigration Reform issue comes up in Congress it will be interesting to see if CNN ultimately chooses Lou Dobbs and his hate speech or Latinos in America. America’s Voice and Media Matters planned to run an ad targeting Dobbs during the broadcast of Latino in America, but CNN refused to air it.

America’s Voice says it plans to run the ad on a competing network.

Ah, The Good Old Days

Just a précis on budget negotiations today: the Big Five leadership has met over the last couple days, with more heat than light.  The Governor remains committed to adding unrelated policy changes into any budget deal, items like changing contributions to public employee pensions, and tightening eligibility and rooting out fraud in programs like in-home supportive services for the disabled, Medi-Cal and Cal-Works.  These items will do nothing to affect the current budget numbers, a fact Schwarzenegger has acknowledged, but he continues to leverage the impasse to capture long-sought goals.  The Governor also has taken to lying about how these issues suddenly appeared in the negotiations, claiming that “reform issues were very clear” from the start, which is true if you define “reform” as “whatever Arnold wants it to mean.”  Karen Bass signaled her frustration with the Governor’s clear unwillingness to close a deal by inserting unrelated items, boycotting today’s meeting and questioning the Governor’s figures on what reducing “fraud” would actually reap in savings (and since he’s been consistently wrong on this front in the past, it’s a good bet).  The Governor did concede that suspending the Prop. 98 education funding mechanism would not be viable, but he keeps pushing for the amorphously defined “reform”, no doubt because he thinks it plays well with the public (Matier and Ross transcribe that private polls show a jump in Arnold’s approval ratings).  This speaks more to the Democrats’ inability to clearly explain reality than anything else, though Bass gave it a try today:

But Bass said she believes talks have gotten worse, not better. And she publicly blasted the governor for comments he made in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, in which he said he explained why he doesn’t go home depressed by budget woes.

“Someone else might walk out of here every day depressed, but I don’t walk out of here depressed,” Schwarzenegger told the Times. Whatever happens, “I will sit down in my Jacuzzi tonight,” he said. “I’m going to lay back with a stogie.”

“He said he’s happy to just go home and sit in his Jacuzzi every night,” Bass said Monday. “I’m very, very concerned about this. He doesn’t seem to be concerned that people are getting IOUs, and all he has to do is go out and blame the Legislature.”

With squabbling and posturing like this, you’d think I’d agree with the Calbuzz take of why this crisis has dragged on for so long.

The constitutional requirement for a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to pass a budget is clearly the single most important reason why the Capitol is in a state of near-permanent political gridlock. But the two-thirds rule has been around since the New Deal and budgets used to get passed. So what’s the hang-up?

Power: Nobody’s got it.

The governor and the Legislature fulminate and flounder simply because no one in the Capitol in 2009 has the stature, clout or influence to cut a deal like Ronnie and Jesse or Pete and Willie once did.

Actually, the budget has ALREADY been passed once this year, closing a $42 billion dollar deficit.  The new $26 billion dollar problem points to the unique nature of the current deep recession.  I’d like to see good ol’ Ronnie and Jesse and Pete and Willie deal with a $68 billion shortfall in the space of six months.

But beyond that, what is also missing from this analysis is the lengths to which the “big bully” theory of how to manage California government, where Democrats and Republicans get together and “cut a deal,” is in a real sense RESPONSIBLE for the problem we now face.  Take the assessment of the 1992 budget in the midst of a recession:

Contrast this year’s with the budget meltdown of 1992, the last time California issued IOUs. Although many of the same conditions applied, the big difference was that both Gov. Pete Wilson and Speaker Willie Brown wielded enough political authority to sit down in a room and cut a deal: Wilson took responsibility for rounding up Republican votes for tax increases and Brown for putting a lid on Democratic caterwauling over program cuts.

Somehow the inability of these major players to avoid a situation where IOUs had to be issued gets put to the side.  But what Willie Brown did not use that clout to do, what no Democrat has done since 1978’s Prop. 13 opened the structural revenue gap enforced by the 2/3 requirement for budgets and taxes, is actually solve the real problem.  Instead he  cut a deal, relying on a future asset bubble to bail him out again and again, and setting the table for today’s crisis.

The 1980s saw the construction of the model. Sprawl was used to provide affordable housing. Special tax systems were set up to pay for suburban schools – the 1982 Mello-Roos Act – which were funded as long as there was enough credit to sustain sprawl. The loss of property tax revenue led cities to shift toward retail, further promoting sprawl (big box stores, malls). The jobs and spending created by sprawl provided enough prosperity to keep voters happy and the politicians in power. For those who were left behind – those living in the city centers, people of color, and the poor – 1978 had been partly about their political and economic marginalization, and the majority of Californians embraced it as part of the deal.

The ideal feature of the centrist system, from the view of its practitioners, is that it apparently neutralized the right-wing revolt of 1978. Low taxes could be paired with preservation of core services, albeit at a slightly reduced level, and thereby avoided another Jarvisite outburst. Well-paid consultants could run statewide TV campaigns to force the public to accept the consensus, without having to do the messy work of engaging a grassroots that would challenge the centrist status quo.

When the system came crashing down in 1991-92, the centrists found it possible to cut a deal to keep things going. Pete Wilson and Willie Brown had much in common, and were able to hammer out a package of tax increases and spending cuts that got a 2/3 majority. I don’t romanticize that deal, but instead use it to show that it confirmed to the centrists that the system they’d built in 1980s could withstand crisis as long as everyone was willing to sit down and make a deal, damn the consequences.

However, the right-wing wasn’t sleeping. In 1990 they managed to convince a bare majority of voters to approve Prop 140, a radical term limits measure that should have fallen afoul of the “revision” rule. But the real moment of change came in 1994, when the far-right in the Republican Party grabbed control of the agenda and launched a massive attack on Latino Californians. Pete Wilson wholeheartedly embraced the attack, and although it brought Republicans gains that year, it was a victory to make Pyrrhus jealous. Latinos registered for citizenship and to vote in massive numbers, and beginning in 1996 what had once been a state whose politics were fairly balanced shifted massively to the Democrats.

As long as Republicans stood a reasonable chance of winning control of California’s legislature or its electoral votes, Democratic deal-cutting with Republicans could be sold to the base as a necessary move to stave off the Jarvisite hordes. But after 1996 this became less and less plausible. The California Republican Party became a captive of the extreme right, even more than usual, and in one of its last acts before leaving power in 1998, pushed through a massive and reckless series of tax cuts.

I don’t disagree at all that we currently face a lack of leadership and clout to get deals done in Sacramento.  Arnold Schwarzenegger has no role inside his own party, and Bass and Steinberg preside over a dysfunctional set of rule requirements and are term-limited out of gathering political capital.  My point is that such leadership has ALWAYS been lacking from the Democratic side of the aisle, at least since 1978.  When prosperity waned, it was clear that California’s political structure would resist responsible governance at every turn.  But instead of preparing for that eventuality by changing the rules, those good old boys of the past cut deals that exacerbated the problem.  They forced the current crop of non-leaders into ringing up the state credit card and enabled the right-wing faction that holds a veto over economic policies.  The center did not hold – but it could never hold.  And the centrists who ruled California in the years after Prop. 13, the timid types who ran away from real solutions and put the state in the position to fail, should not be lauded.  They should be ashamed.