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generations, gubernatorial candidates have been eager to gain
endorsements from local elected officials and tap their experience at
the retail level of politics.

The same is true in this year’s
election cycle, motoring into high gear with the statewide primary June
8. On their Web sites, Republican front-runners Meg Whitman and Steve
Poizner proudly cite hefty lists of local endorsements.

prominent county supervisor had the Poizner and Whitman campaigns
"aggressively" soliciting his endorsement, with initial interest
followed by personal calls from both candidates. From both campaigns,
Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe was impressed by the
responsiveness and attention to detail compared to the past.

"The big difference is just personal contact," said Knabe, who decided to endorse Whitman (more about that decision later).

candidates appear to be interested in local government and the issues
we face," Knabe said. "Los Angeles County is the largest county in
America. In the past – I’m not going to name names – you didn’t have
the personal contact. They didn’t think they needed the locals. They
thought they could run it on the big issues."

On Poizner’s campaign Web page on endorsements,
there’s a breakout box of "Republican Legislators and Elected
Officials" followed by a box 97 names deep of "California Local Elected

The latter list is mostly mayors, council members
and county supervisors, but there are other elected officials as well,
including school trustees and district attorneys.

The Whitman campaign
has a category for elected leaders, topped by the big-name examples
(John McCain) and congressional and state representatives, and then
moving into a roster of 121 local elected officials: district
attorneys, sheriffs, county supervisors, and mayors and city council

There’s a prominent list of endorsements by environmental organizations and their reps on the campaign Web site of Jerry Brown, running far ahead of Democratic challengers in the polls. 

site has no parallel list of endorsements from local lawmakers.
Campaign spokesman Sterling Clifford said that Brown, with his series
of government jobs over the decades, has many local endorsements from
"a network of people he has worked with and knows on a personal and
professional level."

Brown, the state’s attorney general, is
trying to set the record for longest time between gubernatorial terms,
from 1983 to 2010. As the mayor of Oakland from 1998 to 2006, Brown is
the major candidate who has rolled up his sleeves and worked on
neighborhood problems as a city elected official.

Vern Moss
takes seriously his bully pulpit as a Madera County supervisor.
Residents buttonhole him at coffee shops. Sometimes they call him at
home to ask whom he has endorsed.

So he studied the Whitman and Poizner platforms and decided to endorse Poizner.

attack ads from his opposition turned me off totally," said Moss.
"Reading his book, I was impressed with the background and his
entrepreneurship, starting two companies from scratch and selling one
for a couple million dollars and one for a billion."

book, "Mount Pleasant, My Journey from Creating a Billion-Dollar
Company to Teaching at a Struggling Public High School," recounts his
entrepreneurship and his teaching of government classes at Mount
Pleasant High in San Jose in 2002-03.

Poizner, the state insurance commissioner, is better prepared to work in the Sacramento environment, Moss said.

has had no government dealings with Poizner, said Moss. Poizner called
him personally asking for an endorsement, Moss said, after Moss had
done some preliminary research. Moss said yes and followed up with a
letter to the campaign formalizing the endorsement.

"That’s protocol," he said.

The candidates value the input, Moss said.

local elected official is the closest to the people, the city
councilman and county supervisor – that’s where the rubber meets the
road," he said. "They are looking for the heartbeat and we can give
them the heartbeat in Madera County."

Riverside County
Supervisor John Benoit, serving as a state assemblyman in 2005, met Meg
Whitman as she discussed eBay issues (she’s the former CEO of eBay).

was impressed with her then and remain impressed with her now," Benoit
said. He endorsed Whitman also because he feels she has the best chance
of beating Brown in the general election. "She brings women and she
brings young people," he said.

Since the endorsement, he has had
several contracts with campaign staff. "We’ve talked primarily about
how the campaign is going, areas we can see she can improve upon and
what we’re hearing in the community," said Benoit.

Los Angeles
Supervisor Knabe had preliminary calls from the Whitman and Poizner
camps last fall, followed up by personal calls from the candidates
seeking his endorsement. He put them off for a while because he was
busy on county business, but eventually endorsed Whitman in April.

He felt she had the best chance to win in November.

campaigns have kept him in the loop on developments via email, Knabe
said, and "the Whitman people have been extremely receptive to my

There are no direct prohibitions by law or regulation on
endorsement of state candidates by local officials, representatives of
statewide groups said.

"The long and short of it is that you can
use your title but you can’t use public funds or public time to
campaign," said Jennifer Henning, executive director of the County
Counsels’ Association of California.

The Institute for Local
Government periodically gives city and county officials seminars on
ethics. In those sessions there is no advice on local endorsements in
statewide races, said JoAnne Speers, executive director of the ILG.

does seem to come up every election cycle, she said, is a prohibition
on government uniformed staff, such as police and firefighters,
appearing in ads or videos on behalf of campaigns.

Code is clear on that – Section 3206: "No officer or employee of a
local agency shall participate in political activities of any kind
while in uniform."

The endorsement issue is indirectly addressed in some of ILG’s ethics advice available online.

same statutes that prohibit the use of public resources for personal
benefit also prohibit the use of such resources for campaign purposes,"
states ILG’s "Understanding the Basics of Public Service Ethics."

"Public resources" include staff time, office equipment and supplies.

state umbrella organizations – the League of California Cities and the
California State Association of Counties – are nonpartisan. Those
organizations and their officers issue no endorsements.

will sometimes take positions on statewide initiatives when there are
direct effects on county government, said David Liebler, director of
public affairs.