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They All Fall Down

Apr
18
2005

Oh, we may be in for a very hot summer.
Political dominos, California style, has never been trickier for either side of the equation. It’s one big fat “on the other hand” involving the ambitions of two men who personify the differences within the Democratic Party, a Republican celebrity governor who thrives on being underestimated – the Democratic Party’s current attitude – and some hot-button social issues that could backfire.
Here’s one hot-button: An initiative requiring doctors to notify parents when their daughters seek abortions. If the signatures submitted last week are all verified, the initiative will appear on the next statewide ballot. That will bring social conservatives – the state’s inland counties – to the polls in droves. When? Depends.
The earliest state-wide balloting could be in the fall. That’s if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger decides that his pet reform projects won’t make it through the legislature. Since the two easiest to understand measures – a change in the way teachers, members of the state’s most powerful union, are paid and a new way to draw lines for Congressional and legislative districts – are blows to Democrats, it’s unlikely Schwarzenegger will get everything he wants.


So, if the legislature and the governor don’t agree, he’s going to the ballot box where he’s had some success with initiatives. With parental notification also on the ballot, Schwarzenegger’s likely to win on the other issues, as well, even the somewhat dry budget reform package. That’s why Democrats have prepared their own hot-button issue – prescription drug benefits is at the top of the list right now – in a blatant appeal to older voters and the unions. That could hurt – but I don’t think it will cripple – Schwarzenegger’s initiatives.
That’s one reason why there’s talk that Schwarzenegger will get his reforms without going to the ballot. If there’s a compromise, the next election will be in about a year when primaries are held for state-wide elections, including the governor’s race.
This sets up a whole new set of dominos.
Schwarzenegger has backed down on one key part of his plan to reform the state. He’s no longer looking to “privatize” the state’s pension plan. That leaves the organizations that oversee the investments made by these funds, Calpers and Calsters, as politically and financially powerful – platforms for state Controller Steve Westly and Treasurer Phil Angelides.
Westly and Anglelides are expected to face off along with state Attorney General Bill Lockyer to see who will be the Democratic nominee for governor in the Spring primaries which could also have the parental notification measure. That’s probably not so great for Westly or Angelides but might help the third Democrat who would be governor, Bill Lockyer. Lockyer’s calling card these days is his vote for Arnold during the recall and his challenge to court rulings supporting same-sex marriage.
Who will face Schwarzenegger? Right now, Angelides has the lead with activist Democrats. Westly is damaged, at least within the party hierarchy, by his association with Schwarzenegger on fiscal issues. And with almost no help from anyone else, Lockyer’s managed to paint himself as an opportunist, by not only voting for Schwarzenegger in the special recall election but then talking about it. Gay marriage will also hurt him in the money department – the state’s liberal voters are among its wealthiest — a reason to think that Lockyer, who has not declared his candidacy, may not get much past the talk stage.
But will they face Gov. Terminator? That’s not clear. Regardless of how he does it, if Schwarzenegger is able to get the reforms he’s still backing he’ll probably seek re-election because he’ll be able to claim real victories with the legislature or the ballot initiatives. It’s going to be easier and a lot more fun to run as a winner and he’ll have taken a giant step toward creating a more moderate political climate as his political legacy. So, if the legislature agrees to Schwarzenegger’s reforms, they’ll have handed Gov. Terminator a reason to take – if you will – a four-year victory lap and seek re-election. They’ll also have handed him a reason to press for more reform – with even less politesse – in his next term.
But if they don’t agree, they’ll have given Schwarzenegger an excuse to campaign across the state on two political issues – education and incumbency – where the party is the weakest with conservatives and moderate or independent voters. And don’t forget all the other stuff – parental notification, prescription drugs – that will turn November’s election into a free-for-all. And free-for-alls confuse moderate voters. Instead of following the party faithful, they may well do what they did during the Recall and follow Schwarzenegger.
That could put the Democratic nominee, Lockyer, Angelides or Westly in the not-so-enviable positions of being cannon fodder for Schwarzengger’s big guns. Republicans would love to have California in their column and getting the governor elected for a full four-year term would be a good start as far as the national party is concerned. That’s undoubtedly why Westly isn’t openly declaring his candidacy and why Lockyer is waiting, too. The governor’s race could be ugly on a national scale. Besides, we’ll know in a month of so when the next call to the ballot box will be, plenty of time for Westly or Lockyer to make a final call.
If you’re a disgruntled Democrat – a Progressive libertarian or independent– the Angelides match-up against Westly is one to hope for. Angelides v. Lockyer is just two of the party faithful going at each other on social issues. Boring. But Westly v. Angelides essentially pits the party’s two sides, its two points of view on a range of economic issues against one another at a time when Democrats, as a party, don’t seem to know which path to follow.
As we saw this weekend when the party faithful gathered in L.A., Angelides has the support – carefully cultivated – of activist old-school, union-supported Liberals. More fiscally conservative Progressive libertarians – many, like Westly, from Silicon Valley – who dislike the union’s hold on education, revel in their self-made millions and want government reform at almost any cost, are Westly supporters. This is the national Democratic dilemma in a nutshell.

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