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Hearts and Minds

May
6
2004

There a few trends bubbling around in California politics that are worth noting and today seems like as good a day as any to do so.
First, check out Mark Simon’s piece in Monday’s San Francisco Chronicle about Steve Poizner’s race for the 21st California Assembly district. Poizner’s a Republican – a rich Republican, having sold one of his companies for some only-in-Silicon Valley lump of cash that’s funding his political career.


The 21st, indeed most of Silicon Valley, has voted Democratic recently. But Poizner seems willing to spend the money to launch a full-scale Republican effort. His timing seems pretty good. He can certainly count on Gov. Terminator as a campaign draw. Silicon Valley loves the Gov. Self-made; disciplined, rich and in-charge, with a keen eye on the bottom line, he is their kind of guy. And Poizner seems cut of the same cloth.
Simon digs up some election results that show that Poizner might just pull off a victory against Redwood City Councilman Ira Ruskin. Simon notes that the valley’s politics has long been dominated by moderate Republicans, the very sort of folks I call “Progressive Libertarians.” Given Gov. Terminator’s popularity and the chance to vote for someone just like them – and Mr. Ruskin, I’d update and improve my website sooner, rather than later if I were you — the valley’s new tech elite might easily send a Republican to Sacramento.
There’s another reason to pay attention. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Controller Steve Westly – another valley millionaire – have preached the gospel of bi-partisan politics for the past few months. It’s a businessmen together message, one that plays particularly well in the state’s two main business centers, L.A. and Silicon Valley. Watching how the valley – which likes Westly, too – behaves this fall will give you an indication of what it’s thinking for the longer term. National Democratic candidates have long treated the valley as a cash register, coming out, grabbing the bucks and heading back East. A shift like this could be very important in a few years.
In the meantime, Westly continues to position himself for some future gubernatorial race against state Treasurer Phil Angelides. This year, it’s the open primary ballot measure which Westly is supporting with former L.A. Mayor Richard Riorden. It’s another step down the path of mutual respect, bi-partisan governance and toned down partisanship that Westly has laid out – with Schwarzenegger’s help. Meanwhile, Angelides is staking out turf as a corporate reformer, using his position on the state’s pension boards to push a corporate governance agenda. We’ll see how far this goes. Westly is also a Calpers board member; Calsters, too. And he’s not above getting his buddies on board. In a little noticed but important appointment, Westly supporter Mark Battey, got a seat on the equally important teacher’s pension board, Calsters.
And lastly and in fine contrast, we have U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer moving to the right in an attempt to head off criticism from Republican challenger Bill Jones. It’s a perfect example of what former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich denounced in this post over on Brad DeLong’s site.
Boxer’s joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein in calling for the death penalty in the case of man accused of shooting San Francisco Police officer Isaac Espinoza. Boxer is far ahead in the polls and fundraising but she could easily find herself campaigning against Gov. Terminator who has endorsed Jones. So she’s dodging the “soft on crime” charge.
This little jog to the right – and its inconsistency with Boxer’s dead-on criticism of the Bush Administration over Iraq – is just another sad sign of how few good ideas and how little imagination elected Democrats have these days. It’s a tactic, and a defensive one at that. And if you want to know why guys like Schwarzenegger seem like a breath of fresh air, this is part of the reason. He’s got tactics too, but he’s also got nerve.
I don’t want Jones to go to the U.S. Senate. His positions on immigration, women’s rights and a host of other things – including the death penalty – are short-sighted and wrong-headed and don’t represent my thinking. But, like Reich, I despair for the lack of new ideas within the Democratic Party. Established politicians like Boxer – who could be supporting San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom on gay marriage and District Attorney Kamala Harris on her refusal to implement the death penalty — because they are the party’s future, its farm team, don’t see the need for smarter, better thinking. I know why. And it’s disturbing.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 11:26 AM | Permalink

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