2010 Governor’s Lineup Likely Set

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown says that former state Controller Steve Westly and Orange County Rep. Loretta Sanchez could be getting ready to jump into the Democratic race for governor.

Steve Maviglio, a veteran Democratic operative, tosses names like state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, state schools chief Jack O’Connell, San Mateo County Rep. Jackie Speier, former Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick and, what the hell, former state Sen. John Burton into the mix.

On the GOP side, there’s talk that Ventura County Supervisor Peter Foy and someone, anyone from the conservative reaches of Southern California will join a Republican primary that now features a trio of pro-choice moderates from Silicon Valley.

These are the dog days of summer and the political Hot Stove League is in full swing. But just like those proposed sports radio trades of a .250 utility man for a big-time slugger or a 20-game winner, the speculation is for entertainment value only.

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Steinberg Suit Won’t Make Much Difference

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

Democrats couldn’t ask for a better title than “Steinberg vs. Schwarzenegger” for the lawsuit challenging the governor’s right to blue-pencil nearly $500 million in health and welfare spending from last month’s budget revision deal.

It’s short, snappy and leaves no doubt that Darrell Steinberg, the Democratic leader in the state Senate, is willing to stand up to California’s movie star governor to protect the safety net for the state’s most vulnerable residents.

That’s stirring stuff that will likely show up in plenty of Democratic Party fund-raising pleas this year. But, win or lose, the suit’s not going to make much difference to a tapped-out state.

Even if the case is decided quickly and even if a judge rules that the line-item vetoes were illegal, where’s the $489 million to restore that funding going to come from?

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Brown Doesn’t Need to Spend His Money

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

Over his decades on California’s political scene, it’s always been a trick to tell when Attorney General Jerry Brown is joking and when he’s dead serious.

Still, it’s hard to imagine that Brown, who can be one intense guy, didn’t have at least a hint of a grin when he released his take on the latest fund-raising numbers in the Democratic race for governor.

As of June 30, Brown had $7.3 million in his campaign war chest, compared to $1.2 million for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, the only official Democratic candidate for governor. Even more tellingly, Brown only spent $253,181 in that same period, while Newsom burned through $1.5 million.

Those numbers, Brown said, show that his campaign is “exercising the fiscal discipline desperately needed in government today.’’

Try being a politician and saying that with a straight face.

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Prison Cut Ruling a Gift for Democrats

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

It was Christmas in August for Democratic legislators Tuesday as a trio of federal judges gave them the gift of political cover.

The order to cut California’s prison population by more than 40,000 over the next two years – and the short, 45-day window to come up with a plan – will ease of pressure on Democrats facing some ugly political choices later this month.

There wasn’t a Democrat in the Assembly or state Senate who was looking forward to coming back to Sacramento to face a raucous debate on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan for slashing the prison budget through a combination of early releases and sentencing changes.

Taking 27,000 inmates out of the prisons – and releasing many of them back into their communities – was guaranteed to bring out the loud chants of “soft on crime” from conservatives, local police chiefs and plenty of everyday voters.

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Whitman is the Consultants’ Friend

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

California’s economy may be hurting, but Republican Meg Whitman is doing everything she can to pull the political consulting industry out of the doldrums.

In the first six months the former eBay CEO – and political newbie – spent more than $2 million on political consultants and nearly $500,000 on polling for her likely run for governor.

It’s not as though she can’t afford it. Whitman, who was one of the 400 richest people in America back in 2007, had $4.9 million in her campaign war chest on June 30 and put another $15 million of her own into the “exploratory” campaign effort last month. Add to that the $2 million-plus she’s raised from donors in the past month and it’s obvious she can bring in all the outside experts she wants.

Still, you have to wonder if there are any questions left to ask after spending that much on polling. And if Whitman already has pumped out a couple million for consulting fees nearly a year before next June’s GOP primary, what’s the final total likely to be?

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Brown’s Money Bad News for Newsom

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

When a newspaper asked the 2010 candidates for governor how they would handle California’s budget mess, Attorney General Jerry Brown begged off, saying through a spokesman that he wasn’t an official candidate for the state’s top office.

The once and possibly future governor should try telling that – with a straight face – to the 100-plus donors who already have given him more than the $6,500 maximum for the June primary for attorney general, the campaign he’s still “officially” planning.

Although the official campaign finance figures for the first half of the year aren’t due until Monday, it’s clear that Brown is raising serious money for his all-but-guaranteed governor’s campaign despite being bound – for now — by the much lower contribution limits of a down-ballot race.

That’s terrible news for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, the only announced Democratic candidate for governor. If Brown is smoking Newsom in fund-raising now, how much worse will it get when the attorney general actually announces he’ll seek a third term as California’s governor?

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Signed Budget Doesn’t End the Fighting

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

The budget revision may be signed, but the fighting goes on.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may be anxious to talk about something – make that anything – else, but when he decided to whack another $489 million from a spending agreement that took two months of strife to complete, he guaranteed that it will again be all budget, all the time when the Legislature gets back from its summer recess next month.

Speaking at the budget signing Tuesday, the governor said he had no other choice if he wanted to have a none-too-generous $500 million reserve fund in the 2009-10 budget. But Schwarzenegger stuck his thumb in the eye of the Legislature’s Democrats when he blue-penciled millions from health and welfare programs they had fought desperately to save.

And since he already had proposed most of the cuts in his original May revise, Schwarzenegger in essence told the Democrats “Thanks for your efforts, but I’ll take it from here.’’

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Governor Rewriting the Budget Script

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

With the vacationing Legislature playing “drop it and run” with the new budget, that leaves Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as about the only politician left in Sacramento this week and he’s trying to make the most of it.

The governor warned that he is looking for cuts to make up for the $1.1 billion of revenue that disappeared when the Assembly refused to take transportation money from cities and counties and turned thumbs down on a plan to allow new drilling off the Santa Barbara coast.

The only question that will come up when, as expected, he signs the budget Tuesday is whether he’s going to play nice with the legislators and fiddle around the edges of the budget or take an ax to programs Democrats tried to save, such as welfare and health services. It depends on how interested Schwarzenegger is in picking a fight after the long and acrimonious budget battle.

Schwarzenegger already is rewriting the script of the budget dispute, making sure he comes out as the hero in the final reel.

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California Budget Likely Only Temporary

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

California’s effort to close its $26.3 billion budget gap is stalled, at least temporarily, in the Assembly this morning as lawmakers haggle over school funding and borrowing from local cities and counties.

But even when the revisions pass — and almost all of them will — it’s not likely the budget will stay balanced for long. Even those legislators who helped put the agreement together sounded resigned Thursday to doing this all over again before the fiscal year ends next June 30.

“We’re likely to have to come back, probably in January, to deal with wherever the economy takes the budget,’’ Democrat Darrell Steinberg, the state Senate leader, told reporters.

His Republican colleague, Senate Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, sounded like a man with his fingers and toes crossed for luck when he spoke to the Senate before the budget vote.

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Most Budget Complaints Won’t Fly

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

Legislators’ phones will be ringing, jangling and buzzing in Sacramento the next couple of days as advocates for every group convinced it got the short end of the budget stick will be trying to make a last-minute deal.

Mayors and county supervisors will be screaming about losing billions in transportation and redevelopment money, environmentalists will be up in arms about new offshore drilling, state workers will be arguing about their furloughs and progressive Democrats will be upset about … well, just about every cut and revision in the adjusted budget.

Most of those complaints will get a sympathetic hearing – “I feel your pain” – and then a polite but unmistakable brush-off. After two months of watching California’s finances move onto life support, only a handful of legislators – that’s you Assemblyman Sandre Swanson – are likely to vote down what could be the only chance to staunch the bleeding.

Here’s a single question for anyone upset about the budget revise: What’s your alternative?

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