Poizner Apologizes for Being a Moderate

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

It must be discouraging to have to apologize for supporting something you believed in, but GOP gubernatorial hopeful Steve Poizner is probably getting used to it by now.

Take, for example, Poizner’s new www.PoiznerFacts.com, which is, according to a press release Thursday, “a myth-busting web site aimed at correcting distortions of Steve Poizner’s record.”

You know, the type of myths that suggest that the current state insurance commissioner was once a moderate Silicon Valley Republican who was willing to take unpopular positions because he felt they were right, even if they did go against the conservative, anti-tax grain of the state party.

Of course that was a couple of campaigns ago, when he was running for state Assembly in a strongly Democratic Bay Area district with the endorsement of the newspapers in San Francisco, San Jose and Palo Alto.

Let’s let the San Francisco Chronicle describe the Poizner they saw – and supported — during that 2004 campaign.

Poizner is “pro-choice, pro-gay rights, an advocate for environmental protection and an equal-opportunity critic of both parties for routinely taking the state into debt to balance the budget.

“‘I am a frustrated moderate Republican,’ said Poizner.”

Other local papers talked about Poizner’s refusal to sign a “no new taxes” pledge (which brought down the wrath of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association) and his work with Democratic legislators on 2000’s Prop. 39, which made it easier for school districts to pass tax increases.

While that’s a great endorsement for a Republican in a Bay Area legislative race, it’s not so hot for someone running in a GOP primary for governor, where anti-tax conservatives rule.

That could be one reason Poizner’s new blog highlights him as “an anti-tax crusader.”

While opponents allege that the insurance commissioner supports raising taxes, the blog says, “Steve Poizner absolutely opposes raising taxes by one dime.”

And while he did put $200,000 into that successful Prop. 39 campaign, which allowed school district to pass new parcel taxes with 55 percent of the vote instead of the previous two-thirds requirement, Poizner is making his very public mea culpas these days.

In an interview with Martin Wisckol of the Orange County Register, Poizner said that he only backed the measure because it helped charter schools, a key issue for the former volunteer high school teacher.

“Back then, when I saw those charter school provisions in Prop. 39, that’s why I supported it,’’ he told Wisckol. “But in retrospect, I’ve gotta tell you I wouldn’t support anything – anything – that makes it easier to raise taxes.’’

In 2004, Poizner could run as an Assembly candidate who could, in words taken from the endorsement by the Palo Alto Weekly, “form the necessary alliances to forge a new centrist and less politicized approach to government.”

But now, the conservatives who dominate the state Republican Party are arguing about whether Poizner is “pure” enough for the party’s 2010 nomination for governor, ignoring the fact that since 2002, exactly two Republicans have been elected to statewide office, Poizner and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, both from what’s left of the party’s moderate wing.

Poizner can read the electoral tea leaves as well as the next politician, which is why he’s spent the past few years showing up at just about every GOP function in the state, trying to show the grassroots that he’s really the conservative’s conservative and that, heck no, he really didn’t mean all those moderate-sounding things that his opponents are guaranteed to resurrect from that Assembly race.

That’s probably smart politics, given a California Republican Party that seems less concerned about winning elections than about its ideological purity.

But it’s still sad when a political candidate has to apologize for supporting the will of the voters (Prop. 39 did win, after all) on an issue as important as education funding and can’t just say “I believed it was best for the state, so I voted for it.”

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.

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